Pontiac to be taken out behind the woodshed in 2010

April 27, 2009

Bye bye Mr. Pontiac guy. Drove my Chevy to the levy, because nobody has driven a Pontiac since 1979…

Today GM announced its worst kept secret since the Corvette ZR1 – that it is killing Pontiac. I wonder, however, if you can really kill something that has been dead for years. The announcement has caused a steep decline in stock price of body cladding and steering wheel-mounted button suppliers, as well as caused panic among the lower quartile of automotive design soon-to-be graduates, who now will have one fewer opportunity for employment.

Just a number of months ago GM announced that Pontiac was destined to become a niche brand. Since Pontiac has offered no clear segment leaders…or any platform leaders, for that matter, the nameplate has been operating functionally as a niche brand since the Trans Am ceased to be an image and sales success (yet still lagging behind Camaro in total units) back in the “Smokey and the Bandit” era.

In all honesty, this a smart move that is a long time coming. With the exception of the GTO (1964-1972), Trans Am (1969-1979), Bonneville (1957-1959), and possibly the Catalina Sport Coupe 421ci (1961 until it was eclipsed by the GTO in ‘64), Pontiac really has never been a really impressive auto builder. Seeing that it started as a lower-priced alternative to Oakland, it was always too close to Chevy. Calling it the “performance division” was really nothing more than marketing spin.

As for the rest of GM’s death row: Hummer, Saturn, Saab, only time will tell if these will be purchased or just shut-down. Saturn dealers are dropping like flies, making it less desirable to companies like Fiat, which could use the distributors to sell their fuel-efficient cars if and when a deal with Chrysler falls through.

The so-called surviving brands, Chevy, Buick, Caddy, and GMC still have a long way to go. GMC could just as easily be killed, since most GMC are shared products with Chevy. Buick is only popular in China and in US retirement home parking lots, so it could eventually become a Far East-only brand.

Caddy and Chevy are safe, because when inferior cars to Lexus, BMW, Toyota, and Honda are built, Chevy and Cadillac will build them…with “more horsepower” as the sole reason the company will cite for the products being better.

With three out of my last four new cars coming from GM (two Corvettes and an Oldsmobile Intrigue) one might accuse me of utilizing humor to hide my frustration.

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Saturn will leave GM’s orbit and then probably fizzle-out

April 15, 2009

In these uncertain times, there are still those things that can be predicted with 100-percent certainty. One of those is that Saturn will be spinning out of GM’s orbit in the near future.

GM has admitted they want to either “wind down” or sell Saturn. Rumors have been swirling about a deal to sell Saturn to an ownership group led by Black Oak Partners, LLC. We don’t know much at all about Black Oak Partners, but our opinion is that it might as well be the Oak Ridge Boys, because Saturn has little chance of survival on its own.

There was a time and place when a stand-alone Saturn made sense. That time was about 1993 or 1994 when Saturn’s products were unique, and the buzz about the company was that it made great import-fighters.

GM management’s ego, greed, shortsightedness, and general strategic-ADD quickly made Saturn irrelevant. The new company with new products morphed into a young company with a stale product line. Almost fifteen years passed before the division actually received some decent products again. Unfortunately, the products Saturn received were all badge-engineered with other GM products.

So it begs the obvious question: why would anyone – Black Oak Ridge Boys Partners Blues Brothers Band or any of the other rumored “multiple suitors” want to buy a company that only produces products that are nearly identical to other products on the market? Even if Saturn’s offerings are in many ways better than its current platform- mates, that’s still a huge problem. Furthermore, with ultra-high CAFE standards staring manufacturers in the face, an independent Saturn would need some serious deep pockets for R+D.

It’s sad…the Sky roadster could have been a legend. It was prettier than the Solstice and a better size than competition like the Miata. Like all GM vehicles, it needed another generation to work out the cost-induced quality (meaning not-engineered-out) glitches. Similarly, the Aura could have evolved into a great Accord/Camry killer, instead of just an “alternative”.

And imagine had GM been more Johnny-on-the-spot and brought the Volt technology out quicker and put Saturn as the cutting-edge hybrid leader. Instead, if anyone buys Saturn, they’ll need to license the Volt technology from GM, rather than possibly buying the Saturn Volt technology and licensing it back to GM. (Yes, we know GM would have never let it happen, but as they say – “if the price was right!”)

Instead we’ll probably see Black Oak Partners or a bunch of dealers buy Saturn. And just like all the times it happened in the past (remember when Avanti was bought from Studebaker?) the company will quickly fall from relevance, but slowly fizzle out of existence.