The ’14 Grand Damn

“Maximum Bob” Lutz, presumably at a safe distance, discloses that the Feds ordered the death of Pontiac:

“The Feds basically wanted to get GM down to Cadillac and Chevrolet. They said, ‘you don’t need all these brands. You need one prestige brand, and one mass-market brand.’ And we said ‘well we can’t get rid of Buick because Buick is important in China, and if Buick becomes an orphan in the United States then the Chinese are no longer gonna be interested in it.’ And the Feds said ‘Fair enough, but everything else goes.’ We said well we’d also like to keep GMC. They said ‘well, GMC is basically just like Chevrolet,’ and we said ‘that may be true, there may be a lot of shared components, but GMC has an entirely different image, a different customer base, and people are willing to pay different prices for a GMC, and here’s the profitability,’ and the Feds said ‘whoops, okay, keep GMC.’

“So now we had Buick, GMC, Cadillac, and Chevrolet, and then, I wanted, badly wanted, to keep Pontiac, because Pontiac was on its way back, and it had been mismanaged for a number of years, you know, with ‘rebuild excitement,’ and the excitement was only in the plastic body cladding, mechanically there was nothing about Pontiac in the 90s that would make your heart beat faster. And with the solstice and solstice coupe, and with the Pontiac G8, which was a great car. We were embarked on a strategy of making Pontiac different from the rest of GM in that Pontiac wouldn’t get any front wheel drive cars, they would all be rear-wheel drive, and the next G6, was going to use the architecture of the Cadillac ATS, it was going to be a 3-series sized rear-wheel Pontiac, with basically the Cadillac ATS ‘de-premiumized,’ obviously, a lot of the cost taken out, but still fundamentally that architecture.

That was going to be the next G6, and I think we could’ve moved Pontiac away from every other American volume brand and really started positioning it as attractive US alternative to some of the, and obviously at much lower prices than the European rear-wheel drive cars, but the Feds said ‘yeah, let’s just, how much money have you made on Pontiac in the last 10 years?’ and the answer was ‘nothing.’ So, it goes. And, when the guy who is handing you the check for 53 billion dollars says I don’t want Pontiac, drop Pontiac or you don’t get the money, it doesn’t take you very long to make up your mind.”

Truth be told, I rather liked that original government pitch: you get one mass-market brand, one premium brand, and that ought to be enough for anybody. (Ford, not incidentally, came to this conclusion on its own.) But notice how the Feds are willing to indulge the Chinese with regard to Buick, which at the time was selling roughly half Pontiac’s volume in the States.

Personally, I think they should have ordered GMC to go a bit farther upscale. And if we’re really concerned with GM’s proliferation of brands worldwide, why is Chevrolet trying to get a foothold in Europe, thereby cannibalizing sales of Opel/Vauxhall?

So now the General is repositioning Cadillac as the purveyor of RWD BMW alternatives, the ATS aimed right at the 3-series, the new CTS going after the 5. I’m not sure where the XTS fits in here, unless it’s just to reassure old farts like me who remember the word “Brougham,” and the ELR, let’s face it, is basically a Voltier Chevy Volt. Neither XTS nor ELR, I submit, would have had any business being a Pontiac.


  1. McGehee »

    27 October 2013 · 9:48 pm

    Personally, I think the feds should have butted out and let the bankruptcy process work.

  2. CGHill »

    27 October 2013 · 10:10 pm

    And give the UAW a haircut? Not this administration. (And probably not the last one, either.)

  3. Jeffro »

    27 October 2013 · 11:43 pm

    GTO? Trans Am? Maybe actual performance cars rather than spoilers, decals and Recaro seats? A Grand Prix with style rather than corporate FWD drones? Pontiac was at one time all about performance of some kind – when they killed that idea, they doomed the brand.

  4. McGehee »

    28 October 2013 · 7:55 am

    And give the UAW a haircut?

    The problem with Too Big To Fail is that it’s an opinion, nothing more. Math always wins out in the end, and what should have been a haircut becomes “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

  5. hatless in hattiesburg »

    28 October 2013 · 12:54 pm

    well, if there’s anyone who should be giving advice about profitability, it’s our betters inside the beltway :P :P

  6. J.S.Bridges »

    2 November 2013 · 6:43 pm

    They were right to reduce GM’s too-broad-to-sustain line – albeit, they were wrong to a) intervene to bail out GM (or any other “domestic” consumer-product-allegedly-for-profit producer) with taxpayers’s (or even borrowed-from-furriners’) fiat funds/guarantees/whatever, and b) to let the voracious chickens (UAW, have a piece of governing the hen-house action – but they were wrong to cut off Pontiac. Should’ve been Buick got the chop; still not profitable, ain’t gonna be, no time, no way.

    Pontiac – both here and in Ozzieland (different badge/name, slightly different trims, same “go”) – was Car Excitement, the place where the ‘Vette really belonged. Think: Full-bore, screamin’-eagle Firebird, the answer to the Mercury Cougar, the Combination Chevy Impala/Camaro on full-boost plus

    Big Elitist Know-Little-And-Won’t-Learn Gubmint Inside-The-Beltway B-B-Brains, doin’ the usual, screwin’ everybody ‘cept themselves, even their “base” and their Eeevilll Minions…and they killed the very thing that would have – along with pick-’em-ups and razor-edge Caddys (and less interference from United Asinine Warpage and other big-union bullshit) – made the (Not-So)Generous Motorworks outright profitable (as opposed to fake-profitable, like it is now).

    But – of course – all those people in Big Gubment really know about cars is what they see from the back seat of their limos and service shuttles.

    Too bad – but, there it is.

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