Pontiac, Holden, the return of the El Camino… and why Mullets won’t save GM

Holden Ute

The Holden Ute will come to the USA as a Pontiac. It probably won’t be called El Camino, which was the infamous trucklet sold by Chevy during the muscle car era. The Ute will get left-hand-drive, a V8 and Pontiac’s front grill treatment.

Mullet-heads rejoice – the Chevy El Camino is making its triumphant return. Alas, it will be sold as a Pontiac and not called the El Camino. Heck, it won’t even be American, rather another Australian vehicle – a Holden Ute, with left-hand drive and rebadged a Pontiac.

Pluck me bald and call me Breezy, but I just don’t see why bringing back the El Camino is a real priority for GM. I’ve mentioned over and over again that continued focus on niche vehicles is simply killing the Big Three.

We all know that Bob Lutz has an addiction to bringing captive imports over. The problem is that none of them have really been successful. From both a unit sales and profit perspective, the GTO was a disaster. And there’s a long track record of captive imports failing – need I mention Opel or the Merkur. (Yes, I know the XR4ti was a fun car. With only 42,183 sales in 1985-1989, however, it wasn’t the sales and profit success for which Ford had hoped.)

Pontiac’s slice of the overall automotive market pie right now is the caloric equivalent of something on the “Biggest Loser” diet. One might wonder why the company would spend money federalizing a vehicle that is at best a small niche player. This is a company that needs a solid double or triple to stay relevant, not a third-strike passed-ball run to first.

To put some perspective to the project – even in its heyday, the El Camino was never a huge seller. In the days when conventional wisdom placed model survival at 100,000 units, the El Camino never eclipsed 70,000. It was more at home in the 40,000 range. And yes, this includes its GMC Sprint platform-mate.

The El Camino had its best sales in the days before small and midsize trucks. These days, people who want an image truck incapable of hauling huge loads or towing anything larger than a SeaDoo buy a Toyota Tacoma, or one of the other dozens of mid-sizers. This doesn’t even include white-collar “trucks” like the car-based Honda Ridgeline or Subaru Baja.

With higher CAFE standards on the horizon and miserable sales of current Pontiac offerings, it’s a head scratcher concerning GM’s decision to make the brand the home to all the small-market long shots. The GTO, upcoming V8/rear-wheel-drive G8 and El Camino will not be kind to Pontiac’s CAFE ratings (or profitability). Pontiac is also home to some other also-runs – although even I’ll admit that the current portfolio is extremely impressive, but only when compared to the Grand Am, Grand Prix, Sunfire, Bonneville and other garbage that littered dealerships ten years ago.

Certainly there isn’t a complete lack of rationale for the El Camino coming in as a Pontiac. This has been GM’s “performance division” for decades, even if it hasn’t had a top-tier performance car of its own to top other GM divisions since the tripower-equipped 389-ci GTO of 1964. Since then, performance enthusiasts were better off shopping in Chevy dealerships.

The worst part of the Holden Ute-to-Pontiac conversion is that the car will come out looking less like a cool GM performance car, and more like the ugly angled-nose Dodge Rampage car/truck hybrid of the 1980s. How are enthusiasts supposed to get excited over a vehicle that seems to exhibit more visible DNA from a Subaru Brat than from the Chevy El Camino.

And please don’t use the argument that “they already have it, so it’s cheap to market here”. This simply isn’t true. Let’s not forget that GM can’t do ANYTHING cheaply, as the billion-dollar cost to shut down Oldsmobile exhibited. Converting the Holden Ute to left-hand-drive and meeting all safety standards is damn expensive, both in terms of total cost and percentage of projected sales revenues. Furthermore, Pontiac could sign a Major League Baseball MVP to a long-term contract to play for the corporate softball team for less than the cost of marketing and advertising.

I might have said this over a thousand times, but it’s worth repeating…”Big Three automakers have to stop making cars to feed the gray-haired executives’ nostalgia.” The El Camino’s days have long passed, and in the era of high-output low-displacement import tuners, the Elkie is no more than a punch line to the standard white trash joke.

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3 Responses to Pontiac, Holden, the return of the El Camino… and why Mullets won’t save GM

  1. In the military they call this sort of thinking “fighting the last war”.

    You are right Sam, in that they keep laying big bets on niche vehicles and it is going to kill them. Where is the GM version of the Accord? The Civic? The Camry? The Prius? These are the vehicles that are cleaning their clock… not Scion XBs and Honda Insights.

    GM & Ford are determined to build themselves into irrelevance.

    –chuck
    http://chuck.goolsbee.org

  2. Oh and the upcoming Camaro is a great example of this problem. It has taken GM so long to put out what is not exactly an innovative product. By the time it arrives it will sell a handful of units then suffer the same fate as the GTO… after the fanboys buy up a few, sales will tank and it will be dropped from the lineup. America does not want another retro-muscle car. People are starving for fuel-efficient basic transportation. Detroit instead unloads shovelfuls of trucks, SUV’s and thirsty V8 powered crap. It has been how many years since Katrina and >$2.00 gasoline??

    Detroit is doomed.

    –chuck

  3. renee says:

    I don’t care what anyone says…The car is badass. Make it a hybrid and i’m sold.

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