Oops, sorry: I meant the Grand Am. I never could figure out what Pontiac, GM’s former “We Build
Chevys With Plastic Body Kits Excitement” brand, was doing in those last few years, though it clearly wasn’t enough to spare them the axe. It seems clear, though, after looking at where their buyers ended up, that the standard image of Pontiac driver as boy-racer was fuzzy at best:
How did over ten percent of GM’s “driving excitement” brand end up at the its truck brand (GMC)? How did over 14 percent of buyers replace the brand that brought us the GTO and G8 for the mainstream, thrill-free anonymity of Honda and Toyota? How on earth did Dodge, the remaining brand that most resembles Pontiac, only manage about 3%?
And is this conclusion inescapable?
[A]re automotive brands not as important as people make them out to be?
The answer, I think, is that an individual brand loses its importance once it strays too far from its intended purpose. About ten years ago, Nissan’s Infiniti division was foundering, mainly because no one was quite sure what they were selling other than really-expensive Nissans. Eventually they figured out what they wanted to be — the Japanese BMW — and recast the G from a pleasant little front-driver to a reasonable facsimile of the 3-series. (The I, an overdressed Maxima in the manner of the Lexus ES, a tarted-up Camry, was banished forthwith.) Ironically, BMW is now kicking around the idea of a line of FWD cars, and not necessarily to sell as Minis either.
To this day, General Motors hasn’t figured out all its brand positioning. Chevrolet, of course, is pitched to Everyman, and GMC to the guy who thinks he’s a trifle too good to drive Everyman’s truck. It seems clear, though, that the Chinese are calling the shots at Buick — not surprising, since they buy more of them than we do — and Cadillac is still trying to reestablish itself as a creditable luxoboat. (Which is more than Lincoln is doing; except for the ancient Navigator, they have nothing that wouldn’t be equally at home in a Mazda dealership these days.)
This may be why I like that Dodge “Never Neutral” tag. It doesn’t seem to say much, but the implication is crystal clear: “We’d say ‘Badass’ if only they’d let us.” Of course, since their volume vehicle is the Grand Caravan — well, what the hell, it’s about time someone built a badass minivan, right? If they can pull that off, they can be the new Pontiac, especially since they won’t have Chevy constantly nudging into their territory.