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Pontiac Going Rear Drive?
Proposal plays up performance cars in attempt to revive ailing brand

By JAMIE LAREAU | AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

AutoWeek | Published 05/29/06, 2:30 am et



DETROIT -- After debating Pontiac's viability this year, General Motors' leadership plans to revive the brand's heritage of performance with a product lineup of exclusively rear-wheel-drive cars.

There would be no trucks and - after the next generation of vehicles - no front-wheel-drive cars either.

GM will unveil a rwd sedan concept at January's Detroit auto show, company sources say. This echoes the strategy that GM adopted with the 1999 Evoq concept, which revealed Cadillac's new brand "look."

The Pontiac plan is not final. GM executives continue to build a business case for it. This ambitious proposal is a plan to save the brand, which has suffered declining sales. GM sold 437,806 Pontiacs in the United States last year, compared with 599,123 in 1995.

One insider says it would take five years to convert the brand to rwd. That's why Pontiac will get one more generation of fwd and all-wheel-drive small cars.

A Pontiac spokesman declined to comment on the brand's plans. Fwd cars will not go away soon, but rwd vehicles will become more prominent "in the near term," the spokesman said.

Sources inside GM and close to Pontiac say GM leaders are debating:

>> The future of the Grand Prix sedan.

>> A possible GTO replacement based on the Chevrolet Camaro.

>> A Firebird muscle car.

In recent years, Pontiac has been wracked by debate over its future. During a controversial speech at the New York auto show last year, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz called Pontiac "a damaged brand."

In a recent interview with Automotive News, Lutz said he had never asserted that the brand was "irreparably" damaged. While Pontiac is still struggling, GM is repairing the damage, and the bleeding has stopped, Lutz says.

Nevertheless, sources say top-level GM executives did debate a phaseout of the brand. In January, senior executives met to discuss Pontiac's future. GM decided to revive Pontiac as a pure performance brand.

GM will trim product lineups as it consolidates Buick, Pontiac and GMC into three-brand dealerships under its retail channel strategy. In a recent interview, Lutz told Automotive News that Pontiac and Buick will not carry trucks.

Lutz declined to speculate whether the Pontiac Torrent crossover, a rebadged Chevrolet Equinox, would one day go to GMC, but industry sources say it's likely.

The strategy will force Pontiac to sort out its product plans for the Grand Prix. While GM hasn't set a time frame, it's likely the automaker will discontinue the current incarnation of the fwd Grand Prix after the 2008 model year, industry sources say.

GM is considering a new mid-sized rwd sedan to replace it, says an industry insider. The source says the vehicle will be "one notch up" from the present Grand Prix, which has a base price of $21,990, including shipping. Whether that vehicle keeps the Grand Prix name is uncertain.

A rwd lineup could give Pontiac performance credibility, says John Pitre, general manager of Motor City Auto Center in Bakersfield, Calif. "They're right on track with the performance division of GM," he says. "BMW has been born and raised on rear-wheel drive. For us on the West Coast, rear-wheel drive feels better to drive and seems to last longer."

But Pontiac's drive to become a pure performance division would sacrifice sales volume, predicts Doug Scott, industry analyst at GfK Automotive in Southfield, Mich. For example, many G6 buyers in northern climates want a front-wheel-drive car for winter conditions.

Scott also said GM is pressuring dealers to combine Buick, Pontiac and GMC franchises into single stores by cutting the brands' product lineups.

"They really want to narrow the range of products and narrow the sales objective," Scott says. It means sacrificing sales volume at dealerships for profit at corporate level. "It's forcing the channeling strategy," he says.

Pontiac brand executives hope that if GM builds the Camaro for Chevrolet, the architecture could provide a similar product for Pontiac. The previous generation of GM muscle cars included the rwd Pontiac Firebird, a sibling of the Camaro.

But Pontiac spokesman Jim Hopson is quick to add, "We want a truly differentiated product. We don't want a rebadged vehicle."

Company insiders say that if GM decides to build the Camaro, GM will not revive a Firebird version. "There will be no Firebird," says one source. "Rear-wheel drive? Yes. Pony car? No."

Dealers also want a replacement for the GTO, one of only two current rwd Pontiac cars, the other being the Solstice two-seater. Pontiac will kill the Australia-produced coupe this fall after just three model years.

Insiders say there will be a replacement for the GTO, but the product gap will remain for a couple of years.

Says Pontiac's Hopson: "We haven't made any bones about the fact that Pontiac needs a rear-wheel-drive performance vehicle."
 

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The last I had read about something like this was that they were sticking with FWD because it was too expensive to bring the Holdens from Australia.... good for Pontiac, I can't stand FWD cars, don't like the feeling of being pulled.
 

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Well with sales plumeting and costs sky rocketing...(marketing) GM is serious in trying to create single location dealerships for Buick - Pontiac - GMC.

Its rumored that the product line will be pared down dramatically as these three brands really equate to what in the past would be considered one brands lineup.

Advertising costs for GM far exceed any of the competition and the "experts " are saying its keeping GM from being competitive..

They are spending too much and sending out less focused messages to the consumers..

IMO...Just build kick @ss rear wheel drive Pontiacs like the 300C ...

The public will beat down the door to buy them...

Just look at how successful the Solstice has been...Its not in advertising or the lack of it that matters..Its the bottom line product that counts..

That said..if GM can cut its yearly advertising costs it will leave more money for GREAT PRODUCT>

Pontiacs in trouble..Buicks in trouble...as they both hold a lot of negative perspectives from young buyers..

IMO thats why Saturn was chosen to lead GM's revival....

Saturn has very little negative baggage in the eyes of potiential buyers..

IMO GM should and will eventually meld buick/pontiac and GMC into one new brand...

I still believe a brand name Aurora would have been perfect for these Aging brand names...(I know it was a car name but it fits nicely into todays marketplace)

GM could effectively have Chevrolet, Cadillac, Saturn, Aurora and it would in fact solve its negative brand image ..

Unfortunately there are still many who think the nameplates Buick and Pontiac are worth saving..

I'm not so sure unless the product is stunning...

Ie.. Like what is going on at Saturn..or if they are all market segment home runs like the solstice or Enclave/Outlander.

Just shooting the breeze but it should get interesting if GM needs to shed more deadweight faster..

Pontiac/Buick are either going to be huge hits with the new product coming or lumbering deadweights.

What do U guys think?
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I think good strong product like the upcoming CTS, the Corvette, Z06 , the solstice GXP, sky GXP , STS V, Deville,the outlander, the Enclave, the arcadia, the tahoe, the Escalade, Surburban...Envoy, Trailblazer Malibu SS..Impala SS..Cobalt, the G6 GXP, Torrent, and one or two others I can't think of off the top of my head..... they have a lot of good product...

Some deadweight...needs to be ousted...but they will get around to it..

Maybe if they dropped the advertising budget to what Toyota spends they might be better off..

Let the product and the magazine reviews be thier advertising.

GM spends way too much right now on advertising.
 

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I too, see some nice products within GM. Some are very nice and there seems to be something for just about everyone. :cool:

But to think that a product area as competitive as the auto market is can ever stand still is wrong. I can see the need for it to be constantly changing and evolving. The idea of "staying status quo", "fat & happy" is exactly what brought a stagnant GM to its knees in the mid to late 70s. The foreign competition caught them asleep at the wheel & GM (and other domestic carmakers) had to play catchup. :eek::

So keep the line fresh in looks and technology or....die. :usa:
 

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Discussion Starter #7
If you look at the core issues as the cause rather than a corporate philosphy you can see the need to slim down the brands, to consolate (sp) the various brands..

Just looking at the differences in advertising costs for GM versus toyota gives an impetus to why GMC= pontiac - buick single dealerships are needed.

I still feel the brand equity in buick/pontiac GMC is so tainted it would better serve GM to rename them..

But since I'm not a decision maker for GM...its a lot easier to risk the loss of Buick/pontiac/GMC..

The loss of Oldsmobile brand was directly related to GM lossing those sales..

Would GM have lost those unit sales anyway? Thats hard to say...

Will Pontiac brand still shout performance to the masses?

If the products right it will but the brand name is tarnished.

Ask any 20 year old about buying a pontiac..

Its just not in their mind.

Thats a problem unless the cars are fantastic.

Maybe they can pull it off..

What do U think?
 

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I think the GTO was visually boring but maybe the name wasn't right for the car either:D

Chrysler has the best looking vehicles out there right now I think. Unfortunately I think their small trucks look like :cen:

Its gonna take years for any of the big 3 to get back a good quality rep though. But will they survive that long....

Solstice and Sky are a great start for GM:idea:
 
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