The Top Ten Reasons Why Pontiac Failed; Part 3

This is not the Number One Reason, just another missed opportunity.

For the past two days, you saw my personal top nine reasons why Pontiac failed, and it all leads up to the number one reason, revealed today. I have also included a response from my original article with a totally different list. So, what do you think my top reason for Pontiac’s death is?
1–The Pontiac Aztek
The 2004 Aztek Rally

The Aztek is arguably the number one reason for the failure of the Pontiac brand. Like the original Trans Sport concept, the Aztek concept was actually pretty radical and would have fit into the Pontiac stable quite nicely. Unfortunately, after the production engineers and the cost accountants had their say in cutting the budget, the end product was one of the most horrendous products ever to be put on sale.
The 2004 Aztek Rally in Liquid Silver

When conceived as a concept, the planning engineers and stylists were visionary. They saw a market for a car-based SUV, available with all-wheel-drive, flexible seating, and plenty of cargo room, but with a car-like ride and fuel economy. The basic concept was quite sound with vehicles like the Highlander, Murano, and Edge taking pages from this playbook, but the execution was anything but a success. The vehicle was based on the GM minivan platform, the Montana to be precise, with an uncompetitive 3.4-liter V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive system was to be an electronic one–mounted within its own aluminum subframe–and never really worked as advertised. The body was covered in every Pontiac styling cliché, from an overabundance of cladding to the split grill with an over-styled spoiler at the rear. The interior, equally over-styled, actually incorporated a couple of good ideas including a drink cooler as a part of the console and an available tent that could be used for camping.
The Aztek Concept of 2001.

However, the product development process and the marketing of the Pontiac Aztek will be used in business schools for decades to come. It’s a lesson in how to dilute a once-proud brand into one that has outlived its usefulness. Instead of remembering Pontiac as the car company that produced the sleek Trans Am, the muscular GTO, the popular Grand Prix, or even the innovative little Fiero, it will be forever associated with the horrible Aztek which to many people has become the definition of hideous.
The Definition of Hideous

Since I ran this piece a little over 10 months ago, there have been some interesting commentary from fellow enthusiasts, and I would like to share one here. The response was from a guy who calls himself Speedzzter, and he would like to think he had the real top 10 reasons why Pontiac died. Without going into detail, they were:
10. GM Politics
9. Performance Malaise
8. Design Malaise
7. Leaving NASCAR
6. The GM Racing Ban (after 1963)
5. Three decades without a GTO
4. The slow death of the Firebird
3. Front wheel drive
2. The Iron Duke 4 Cylinder
1. Death of the real Pontiac V8

If you want details, look at my original article, but now it’s time for all of you to comment. What really was the reason for Pontiac’s demise? I have my opinions, now lets see yours.

20 Comments

  1. UDMan, this has been a really good series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these reasons.
    Also, perfect post for tax day tag put a smile on my face.
    An aside, has there ever been a brand revival in the history of auto manufacturing? I imagine not, mostly because brands fail for a reason, and why bring up the past. In my mind, I picture a new Olds 442. I like Ghostbusters 1 and 2, but that does not mean that 20 years later, the Ghostbusters franchise will get revived.

      1. Hell, you're all forgetting Buick-
        aka the lucky duck GM plucked to keep the gap between cadillac and chevy pleasantly filled. Why? who knows. But you have to admit they're are putting some attractive competition on the table. With the possibility of a Regal GS [really, why in Gods name wouldn't GM bring this to production, if they do not, they will have learned nothing from this], sport may actually makes its way back into the lineup. If there ever was a brand to make a comeback, Buick will be it.

      1. Spyker, too. The original Spyker Cars was started in 1880, went bankrupt in the '20s and were bought then went bankrupt again in the late '20s and ceased to exist. The modern Spyker Cars owns legal rights to the name, but seems to be carrying on the heritage of the previous company with its aircraft-insprired designs (the old Spyker produced aircraft and engines during WW2).

  2. I still don't understand GM. The reason they failed as a company and should have been sent to liquidation can be most easily summed up in Pontiac. I don't give a rip that over the years Pontiac became a clone copy of virtually every other GM car. Pontiacs designers had the easiest job. Their productuct meetings should have went something like this. "Ok guys here is the Cobalt we are going to make it a G5. Tom put the 2 biggest engines in it you can. Bob make it turn. Jim make it look sexy fast. Brad make the price $3000 over the highest performing Cobalt so the neighbor can say to his other neighbor yeah I bought a Cobalt rebadged as a Pontiac but mine is faster." All Pontiacs should have been developed this way.

    1. Exactly. Pontiac, Saturn, Saab, and, to some extent, Hummer are only symptoms of a corporation that is inept and too big for its own good. It should have been wound down with buyers getting the pieces. No company should ever be allowed to be "too big to fail".

      1. Okay folks, here's a new car design the guys at Chevy came up with:
        Pontiac – make it faster and bettter handling.
        Buick – make it softer and cushier.
        Cadillac – make it more leather-y and chrome-y and, ya know, status-y.
        Olds, make it… –um, wait, don't tell me, I'll get this… …sorta faster, sorta more luxurious, and sorta chrome-y? Is that right? Help me out here, guys…

        1. I always had trouble piecing Olds into the equation too. They really did make relevant cars at a time! i swear! They offered the fwd Toronado in '66 and it was a tremendous display of GM ingenuity. They used to try to play it off that Olds was the quirky, cutting-edge engineering brand. Later it just became a sort of Pontiac/Buick compromise and lost its identity before any of the others.
          That must just be why they got the axe first.

  3. Once Daimler/Chrysler brought back RWD in the 300 and Charger, Pontiac should have gone the same way. That would have brought excitement.

  4. As UD and others have demonstrated, there are a lot of reasons why Pontiac failed, but I'd ague at the heart of it was GM/Pontiac's inability to decide whether the brand was a full-line brand or a specialty brand.
    They marketed themselves as a specialty performance brand, but built product like a full-line brand. This left them effectively competing with Chevy both inside GM and on the lots.
    Had GM had the wisdom and stones to pare Pontiac back to a performance-only brand, they would've at least had an identity. I'm told dealers had problems with this, which is ironic given the fate it earned them.
    Like others have said, I thought there was a real hope for Pontiac to offer sporty versions of GM's other products. In fact, I wrote it up on proto-Hooniverse about a year ago… http://ringandpinion.blogspot.com/2009/01/future-
    Hell, maybe I'll just re-run that tomorrow or something…

  5. I think Speedzzter's #1 reason is why the whole of GM is in the mess it's in. Sure, getting each brand's V8s to pass emissions would have been pricier than just picking the best ones (usually Chevy) and axing the others. But GM was making money at such a rapid clip they could have easily afforded to keep the brand specific V8s, and when the time came to downsize to V6s and fours, leave each brand's engineering department to come up with its own powerplants. The consumers' disillusionment with badge engineering would have been far less widespread if, say, the Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 had a turbo, EFI version of the Pontiac 301 V8 (or, better yet, a turbo, EFI version of the Sprint OHC six of the '60s) instead of the Chevy 305 (and even then it wasn't the high-output version found in the Monte Carlo SS) it actually came with. Or if the Olds LSS came with a high-revving, quad-cam, normally aspirated Olds-only V6 (painted gold, of course) instead of a supercharged Buick V6.

  6. You know, UD, I kind of like Speedzzter's list. There is a lot to agree with your list and his, actually, but when you break it all down the death of Pontiac can be attributed to all of the same things that were the death of GM as a whole. Many of your examples are different versions of the same story, which was a loss of identity within the brand, accountants having more influence on final product than engineers, and just a generally poor corporate mentality that people would buy whatever GM threw out there just because. Things like body cladding, poor redesigns of key vehicles, and the TranSport/Aztek debacles are all related to those things. Speedzzter's list points out politics and the malaise era, which are also very key, at least in my mind. It's pretty tough to advertise to the public that you "Bring Excitement" with V8s barely pushing out V6 levels of power, and yawn inducing style. Truthfully, most of GM's problems in general could probably be linked to politics and bean counting when you get down to brass tacks. But that's another story for another day I guess.

  7. What really bugs me more than anything about all of this is that Pontiac [along with Saturn believe it or not] were actually making some due progress in terms of finally making cars people wanted, not just cars that people waited on to hit the used lots so they could get a cheap crappy car at a more befitting price.
    The Saturn Aura, Sky, Poncho Solstice (although a copy, yes), and above all, the G8, were, to me, great signs that the brands were actually making a turnaround. Saturn finally making cars that looked BETTER than what their segment was designed for. To throw away these two brands when they were actually making the best cars in 35 years is just a crying shame.
    It would have stung a lot less if GM severed ties with the two brands back when they were making cars we didn't care about. Instead they were killed off at a time when they were already halfway up from rock-bottom. Personally, I never considered myself a fan of Pontiac or Saturn, even when they were producing good machines, but even so, it saddens me a little bit that the general had to essentially cut its heritage in half.
    I can only take comfort in the fact that Buick and Saab were spared in this mess, and that those years of shitty domestics are behind us all. Saturn and Pontiac, RIP….. Hummer, meh.

  8. I think Pontiacs demise could be rendered down from 10 reasons to one word. It was not a failure. It was an asassination, pure and simple. It took a cocktail of all the aforementioned poisons leading to a slow agonizing death, but it was still an asassination.

  9. No argument about the Aztek, however the later ones after the gray cladding was removed (like the silver one pictured) aren't nearly as awful. I always though that it's platform mate, the Buick Rendezvous was even more awkward looking.

  10. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

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