Today, GM announced its revised cost-cutting plans in a last-ditch attempt to avoid Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In it, the Pontiac brand was one of the casualties. The company's truck-only GMC brand was spared.
This may seem counter-intuitive in the current automotive environment when the prevailing opinion and news has been the shrinking of the truck and SUV market. But let's face it, the entire automotive sales pie has shrunk considerably in the last year. And let's not forget that as of March 2009, three of the 10 best-selling vehicles in the U.S. were still full-size pickups.
As a general automotive enthusiast, I'm sad to see Pontiac go, just as it seemed it was experiencing a product renaissance with the introduction of the critically-acclaimed (though slow-selling) G8 sedan, and the fun-to-drive Solstice roadster. But two modestly-selling niche models were obviously not enough to convince the Obama automotive task force of the brand's viability. Ironically, the one Pontiac model with the best chance of surviving beyond January 2010 is the Chevy Aveo clone Pontiac G3, a competent but unremarkable front-wheel-drive subcompact.
However, from a purely nuts-and-bolts numbers standpoint, it's easy to see why GMC was spared the gallows, and Pontiac was given the noose. GMC does not have a single exclusive model that it doesn't share in one form or another with Chevrolet. Even the once-exclusive Sierra Denali model with the 6.2L V-8 has an equivalent Chevy Silverado model. Likewise, the new Terrain midsize crossover is a chunkier-looking version of the upcoming Chevy Equinox. Although badge-engineering has long been vilified by the automotive press, in this particular instance, it's likely what saved GMC. How much could it cost to engineer a new grille and radiator core support to differentiate the GMC from the Chevy?
Pontiac on the other hand, had two exclusive, low-volume models to itself (read: expensive to engineer, and not very profitable) in the G8 and Solstice. Yes, the G8 shares some of its hardware with the new Camaro, and variants of the Holden Commodore are sold elsewhere in the world, but for all intents and purposes, and within the context of the North American market, was a Pontiac-exclusive. The Solstice shared a platform with the Saturn Sky, but with Saturn in arguably even worse shape than Pontiac, there was little room in a government-scrutinized turnaround plan for a sporty, two-seat roadster.
I truly have mixed feelings about GM's situation, and the latest developments only exacerbate the cognitive dissonance. GM has truly been a part of American culture for decades. From the '55 and '57 Chevy, to Chevy trucks and the bold styling and grand size of Cadillac, and too many other storied and significant cars to list here, there's no doubt the company was a part of almost every American household over the years in one form or another.
Yet along with its unprecedented success and growth came unprecedented arrogance as well as unprecedented future entitlements. The company, along with Ford and Chrysler, vastly under-estimated the effect foreign rivals would have on the American automotive market, as well as the devastating effects two decades of spotty quality and poor customer service would have on market share. In a sense, GM "got what they had coming." But I take little joy in the company's predicament. Whether this ultimately plays out in a structured, out-of-court recovery, or in Chapter 11, I wish the General a quick recovery and a return to private management.