Paean for Pontiac

I meant to write this last Friday, which was the 9th anniversary of that sad day when General Motors announced the end of Pontiac. That make has probably meant more to me than any other. First, a little history.

Pontiac was created in 1926 as a companion make to Oakland. Alfred Sloan, then President of GM, believed that more market segments existed than the company had cars. Around the same time, General Motors also introduced the Viking as a companion to Oldsmobile, the Marquette as a companion to Buick and the LaSalle as a companion to Cadillac. Obviously, Pontiac was the most successful of the GM companion makes as only LaSalle even made it to 1940 and Pontiac was so successful that it “killed” its “parent,” the Oakland.

Pontiac finished third in US sales, behind only Chevrolet and Ford, for nine consecutive years from 1962 to 1970, inclusive. Note that run began two model years before the introduction of the GTO in 1964. Of course, the GTO is considered to be the first modern muscle car and the car that, therefore, started the US muscle car boom that lasted until the early 1970s.

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From highperformancepontiac.com (obviously) a picture of a 1967 Pontiac GTO. My first car was one of those and I still miss it to this day. I have written about that car before, both in this blog and my previous one. Pontiac engines were known for their torque; the base 400 cubic-inch V-8 engine (the one I had) was rated at 335 HP, but 441 LB-FT of torque. My car actually ate a pair of motor mounts. I guess I had more of a lead foot in those days.  🙂

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From cargurus.com a picture of a 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix. I bought one of these new when I moved to California and it holds the distinction of being the car I owned the longest: 9 years. It was also the first car that I owned in multiple states as I took it to Texas when my wonderful wife and I moved there in 2000.

Speaking of my wonderful wife, she also has a Pontiac connection:

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From cargurus.com a picture of a 1979 Trans Am. My wonderful wife once owned one of these although I did not know her then. She still speaks highly of that car.

General Motors is no longer manufacturing cars with the Pontiac name, but is still using the name to make money as it sells products with the Pontiac logo(s). Yes, the automobile market and world have changed, but don’t forget that Pontiac was axed in favor of retaining Buick only because Buick is popular in China, which is the world’s largest auto market. Take a look at this table of sales by calendar year:

   Pontiac   Buick
2000 542,427 404,612
2001 456,664 373,924
2002 441,203 370,549
2003 408,673 259,348

I can’t seem to find more recent sales data. Both makes saw declining sales, but Pontiac consistently outsold Buick and was third in sales, behind only Chevrolet and Ford, in all four years. Maybe the data from 2004-2008 was different, but how different could it have been?

The badge engineering begun by GM in the late 1950s, and which accelerated in the late 1970s, didn’t do any of the makes any good in the long-run even though it may have been good for the company in the short-run. As the differences between makes disappeared customer behavior changed in a negative way for GM. Going off on a tangent, I still think GM should let Buick have a revised and improved version of the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky as a halo car.

Anyway, Pontiac was a very important make in the history of the US automobile industry. It was also important in my history. Long live Pontiac!

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3 thoughts on “Paean for Pontiac

  1. My heart weeps for the future of American car companies. Soon, many citizens will have 30 year mortgages and 15 year car loans. And that’s a rosy prediction. It used to be you could have any color you wanted in a Model T, as long as it was in black. Now Porsche offers 24 VERSIONS of its 911.
    Still, you can get three serviceable used cars for the price of a loaded 2018 U.S. Car of the Year, the Honda Accord-$39,000 fully loaded(which by the way, looks like an incredible car).
    The big existential question is, what is a car in today’s world? In the past it was a means of freedom, of status, of defining who one was. Today, it is a 60-72 month albatross, that requires space, maintenance, and a lack of soul. The 17 million sales numbers seem a mirage to me, and as the recent Ford decision suggests, also to the car executives.

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    1. Happy Birthday, Maurice!

      The 17 million number is not a mirage as it includes SUVs and pickup trucks. The mix of cars/trucks/SUVs is changing and that is what has triggered Ford’s move.

      What is a car? I understand your point, but I think the answer to that question varies from person to person. I also think Ford’s decision is very short-sighted. The tastes of the American public can be fickle. What happens if war breaks out in the Middle East or a terrorist attack pushes one-third of Saudi Arabia’s oil offline? If gas goes to $5.00/gallon do you still think Americans will buy F-350s and Escalades?

      Anyway, as I have written before in many venues, if you appreciate exciting cars do all you can to support them including buying one if you can afford it.

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      1. Thanks Mr. Logic!

        I may have chosen the wrong word in mirage. Maybe conflated or “on steroids” is more appropriate in that such numbers are on the backs of 60-72 month loans, many (26%) are to subprime borrowers.

        Fickle won’t be adequate to describe how buyers will react WHEN gas prices hit $3.50-(hint, September 2018).
        I don’t see many “clunkers” being turned in for cars this time, which means that some other scheme will be needed to save the American car industry when gas prices and interest rates go to new heights.

        I will be there waiting for my six speed C4 to drop in price.

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