When General Motors Went Bankrupt Back In 2009, The Pontiac Car Brand Was Killed On A Government Whim!

Posted By on October 26, 2013

We always liked the GM Pontiac brand, established back in 1926, with an early model called The Chief, which started as a companion make for General Motors’ Oakland name plate.  It quickly overtoke its parent in popularity, and supplanted the Oakland brand entirely by 1931. Interestingly, Pontiac always had a theme and closeness to Native American Indians, originally built in Pontiac, Michigan, the early cars had an Indian mascot as a hood orniment, and a popular Pontiac Chieftain line of models starting in 1952. Finally the downward facing Arrow became the new logo…..  For the rest of its life Pontiac, became a performance companion make just above Chevrolet. Interesting tid bit….Motor Trend magazine picked the entire Pontiac line as its 1959 Car of the Year.

GM killed the Pntiac name brand on government orders, according to former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz. Bob was speaking at an event at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, and expanded his comments more in a Q&A. 

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.

But I think it is a shame, Pontiac was on its way back, and it was killed before it, before the plant could really sprout blossoms, you know, it was well on its way. So, I agree with you, I think Pontiac was a great, wonderful history, mismanaged for a number of years in the 80s and 90s and it was clearly on its way back, and we were starting to see a very good customer base in solstices and especially in the G8, which was favorably compared in a lot of road tests to the BMW 5-series, people would say dynamically the car is as good and it’s more powerful and way cheaper, but that was too bad. but you can’t go through Chapter 11 without some really harmful effects.

Wise Dog,  Petersen Museum

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