25 March 2005
Advice to the General
In 1929, General Motors had all these car nameplates:
Four of these La Salle, Marquette, Pontiac and Viking were invented to extend their "parent" marques (Cadillac, Buick, Oakland and Oldsmobile respectively) during the "Roaring" Twenties, in keeping with Alfred P. Sloan's decree to offer "a car for every purse and purpose." The Depression killed off Marquette and Viking within two years; Pontiac, outselling Oakland, survived its parent, and La Salle held out through 1940. (Oldsmobile, the oldest of the bunch, made it to 2004 before its, um, induction tube was removed.)
Of course, when you have 60 or 70 percent of the market, you can do stuff like this. When you're down to 28 or so, you can't, which is why Vice Chairman Bob Lutz has hinted that one of the surviving GM marques will be axed. At Wizbang, Paul thinks it's going to be Buick or Pontiac, and offers reasonable suggestions to jump-start Buick, hinting that Pontiac is expendable.
If you ask me, it is. Apart from the slow-selling GTO, itself a repackaged Holden from Australia, GM's ostensible "excitement" division has nothing all that exciting, at least until Lutz's baby, the Solstice roadster, shows up and when it does, it will have a Saturn sibling, called Sky. Dammit, guys, you can't go replicating cars just so Dealer Y doesn't whine about something Dealer X gets to sell.
And while you're at it, sell off your last few shares of Isuzu. They don't like you anyway and would rather be on their own. (So would Saab, probably, but they can't afford to leave.)
How I envision a Pontiac-less GM:
Chevrolet: Back to being a budget brand, with two exceptions: a minivan (GM should have only one minivan, and it should be a Chevy) and the Corvette. The trucks can stay.
Buick: Good old American ostentation, aimed at the lower-to-middle segments of the Lexus line. Think Sixties Riviera.
Cadillac: Actually making noises like they want to be the Standard of the World again. Let them. With Mercedes-Benz screwing up these days, now's the time.
GMC: Superfluous, especially if gas prices go through the roof and truck sales go into a tailspin. Besides, you're not fooling anyone with these rebadged Chevys.
Saturn: Home for the Consciously Weird cars. In a Pontiac-free world, the Solstice/Sky and the Vibe (the Toyota Matrix spinoff) should be able to find solace at Saturn. (Forget the Aztek. Please. And if we're going to keep the Ozified GTO, we should turn it into a Buick.)
Hummer: People who buy Saturns and such hate this brand, which justifies its continuance: all your marketing research is done for you.
I'm sure there's a place where Daewoo, Saab, Subaru and Suzuki fit in, but right now, except for Saab, they're not causing problems.
(Update, 11 am: GM marketroid Mark LaNeve says Lutz notwithstanding, no brands are destined for the chopping block.)