Farewell, Pontiac.


Taking yet another step toward oblivion, General Motors announced today that it will kill the Pontiac brand in 2010.  Thus ends another proud American name-plate, sacrificed on the altar of “free” trade. 

President Obama had the power to breathe new life into the domestic auto industry when he took office by restoring a balance of trade in the auto industry, demanding that Japan, Korea, Germany and Mexico begin buying as many American-made autos as we buy from them, or face tariffs and import quotas.  This would have almost instantly doubled domestic auto sales, breathing new life and profitability into GM, Ford and Chrysler, even as we headed further into recession.    Additional shifts would have been added and idled plants restarted.  This would have been a stimulus plan that put the one he opted for instead to shame.  Instant results. No expense to the taxpayer.

But no.  That would have made him a turd in the punch bowl at the G7 and G20 parties.  Much better to drive the domestic automakers into bankruptcy, slash pay and benefits, kill off thousands of dealerships, stiff bondholders and shareholders and stick taxpayers with the bill.

What a shame.  Pontiac made some of the most iconic models of all time including the G.T.O. and Firebird.  I’ve only owned one Pontiac in my life, a used ’84 Fiero which, aside from my first car, a ’73 Corvette, was the most fun car I’ve ever owned.  A mid-engined, 4-speed sports car with a composite body, independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and incredible handling for only $4,000.  High insurance rates finally killed off demand among its target demographic.  Too bad.  It was a terrific sports car at a great price. 

In my opinion, Pontiac still has the most attractive styling of all of the GM products available today (except Corvette, of course).  The Pontiac G6 is as stylish as anything in its class and the styling of the G8 is in a class by itself.  Then there’s the Solstice – the equivalent of a BMW Z4 at almost half the price.  I’d be driving one now if I was in the market for a new car. 

Obama has said that America needs a vibrant auto industry.  But the plan seems to be to down-size it out of existence.  In 2004, Oldsmobile bit the dust.  Today it’s Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer.  Along with those cuts come the closing of more plants, the elimination of almost half of its dealership network and the elimination of 21,000 more jobs. 

If this was all part of a process of slowly reducing our population to a sustainable level, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.  But killing off the last vestiges of the manufacturing sector of our economy even as the population is expected to grow by at least 100 million people in the next forty years is a recipe for an economic catastrophe.  Oh, wait, we already have one!

11 Responses to Farewell, Pontiac.

  1. mtnmike says:

    Good Morning Pete,

    You forgot Saab which GM is also jettisoning.

    I know that we disagree on this subject, but I have been writing about GM’s problems for nearly five years now. They had created a quasi pyramid scheme by booking forward liabilities that required growth that was mathematically, very improbable.

    We now see an American icon that will owned primarily by the Federal Government and financed by the American taxpayer. The permanent losses of the workers, parts providers, and stock and bond holders is mind numbing. It is a far greater loss than will ever be properly reported.

    On the other hand, I also hate to see Pontiac go. After my stint with Uncle Sam’s Navy, I bought a 1966 GTO with tri-power, painted Midnight Blue. It was a kick.

    Also Pete, I think you are wrong about our export deficits. Have you included our export jobs business? We have that market cornered. Have a great day.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      I didn’t really forget Saab, but chose to omit them, since I don’t really consider them GM vehicles. They’re Swedish imports. GM hasn’t owned Saab for very long and it was always an odd fit, just like all of the other foreign brands that GM and Ford had snapped up, like Jaguar, Land Rover and others. They’re all imports and I’m just as happy to see them go.

      I agree that GM’s plan was for sales to continue to grow, at least holding onto market share. They never expected for their market share in the U.S. to be halved by dumb trade policy. I think that they could have remained a viable company, even in this recession, if their volume was 6 million vehicles instead of 3 million and if they could make $1,000 on average on each sale, which is a reasonable profit margin. In good times, that volume would jump to 10 million.

      It’s interesting that, after leaving the Navy, you bought a midnight blue GTO. While still in the Navy in ’73, I bought my midnight blue ’73 Vette. I ordered it at the exchange in Athens, Greece (got an 18% discount!) and picked it up in Chicago after our Med cruise ended. It had the L82 engine (the de-tuned descendant of the famous LT1 engine), 4-speed and black leather interior. No A/C and no power steering, as I wanted all of the horsepower to go to the rear wheels! It was stolen two years later. Broke my heart. Any time I see a blue ’73, I still take a long look and wonder if it could be mine.

  2. Robert says:

    Hi Pete,

    I’ve owned two Pontiacs, one a 1982 Trans Am and the other a 1989 Firebird Formula, I loved both of them. What a sad day to see the demise of Pontiac. We are witnessing the last remnants of American manufacturing going down the drain and our President and Congress do nothing to stop it. What I don’t get is if the average Joe can clearly see the problems with free trade, why in the world can’t our government see the problem? I mean for crying out loud, it is staring us in the face.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      I do believe that, at long last, they see the problem. But they’ve fallen into the same trap as previous administrations: believing other nations when they promise to boost their imports of American goods. I supppose it’s understandable for a new administration (although it wouldn’t have worked on me). What remains to be seen is what Obama will do when they don’t come through. Does he have the guts to do what’s right for the American people at the risk of angering these overpopulated countries and forcing a trade war?

  3. ClydeB says:

    My only Pontiac was the intro.(73) Grand AM 4 door in Ascot Silver and the Burgundy interior and the 6.5L engine. Absolutely the best highway car I’ve ever driven. It did have a prodigous appetite for gasoline though. I made numerous modifications to the, at that time, rudimentary polution controls, which actually were just detuning and got the MPG up from about 9 when new to the 14-15 range.
    I remenber your Fiero, Pete.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Clyde, are you talking about a Grand Am or Grand Prix? I don’t remember the Grand Am model going back that far. The mileage figures you quoted sound more like a Grand Prix.

      By the way, I’ve also owned one Toyota during my lifetime, a ’75 Corolla. (Bought with the insurance money from my Corvette, along with furnishing my apartment.) The Toyota was a great car, with two exceptions: (1) it needed a complete tune-up every 15,000 miles and, if it didn’t get it, it would soon quit running altogether. (2) In spite of being professionally rust-proofed when it was new, it was so badly rusted when it was six years old that I was using old license plates to cover the holes in the floor boards. I swore I’d never buy another.

  4. Randy says:

    RE: Seeing the problems

    The problems lie in the realm of monetary phenomenon. Offend the asians and risk currency default.

    I don’t mind the demise of Pontiac because it was redundant like Ford’s Mercury.

    Today, Obama said the Yanks can’t seem to make an affordable hybrid car as good as the Japanese. Does anyone care what Obama has to say? I don’t.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Randy, I’ll just have to disagree with you on the redundancy issue. There’s plenty of market in the U.S. to support a lot of brands. The problem is that there are far too many brands from foreign nations who are unwilling or unable to provide an equivalent market in return. It’s just dumb trade policy.

  5. luxematic says:

    For me, its the Hummer and not the Pontiac who should have taken the brunt.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Well, Hummer’s dead too. GM takes a lot of heat for the Hummer brand, but they were simply responding to a big demand for these vehicles. Nobody held a gun to the head of Americans and told them to buy them. But the brand then rightfully bit the dust when gas prices topped $4 a gallon. If the government wants the American automakers to build fuel-efficient cars, then the government better make American consumers want to buy them. The only way to do that is by taxing gasoline.

  6. ClydeB says:

    I had the ‘real’ Grand Am as opposed to the compact car version that they brought back several years later. It was available as a 2 dr. and a 4 dr. Mine was called a sport sedan, and only a few were built. Had the flexible nose with the enclosed bumper( I still have a dealership poster from the introduction). It had the body problem your Toyota had, rusted like it was built that way. I had the whel openings compeltely replaced once and several repairs to other rust spots. Great car to drive though. They used the same suspension the Trans AM.

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