A couple of days ago Burt Reynolds, a famous American actor, who has on his list of films made the saga of 3 films “Smokey and the Bandit” in which Reynolds stars in the film along with his faithful companion, a Pontiac, died. Trans-Am from 1977. Watching some videos on Youtube I began to remember what other Pontiac cars had made fame in the movies or on television and I immediately came to “Kitt, the Fantastic Car”, the famous Pontiac Firebird that had a life of its own. and that he even spoke and that he was the protagonist together with David Hasselhof. But from there it came to my mind that Pontiac ceased to exist in 2010, news that stood out more for the context than for the fact that it was Pontiac, that led me to wonder… Pontiac… what happened?
To understand what happened to Pontiac, you first have to know the origin of everything. On September 16, 1908, William C Durante created General Motors (GM), in order, among other things, to regain legal control of Chevrolet and its assets. GM would become the largest corporation in the United States and one of the largest in the world.
GM would begin its expansion process from the day after its creation (literally) with the purchase of Buick, then it would buy Oldsmobile that same year and in 1909 it would buy Oakland and Cadillac. Durant’s idea was that GM would be a group of brands, people would buy any one of them and all the money would go into the same “pot”. But Durant went further, he sought to create a kind of loyalty in his customers, for that he structured GM in a kind of ladder where all its brands would come to life, offering from the most basic and economical cars (Chevrolet) to the most luxurious and expensive (Cadillac). The idea was that a person could go up the ladder of brands, thus always maintaining loyalty to GM; Hence, GM was famous in the automotive world for having “everything and for everyone.”
His plan was not bad, but he had a problem and it was that there was a price difference between each brand, that price difference represented its own market niche that the competition took advantage of and for which GM had no offer, that is how GM created various “companion” brands that would fill those gaps between the main brands; Viking, Marquette, La Salle and Pontiac, our protagonist. Pontiac would fill the niche between Chevrolet and Oakland, Viking would fill the niche between Oakland and Oldsmobile, Marquette would do the same in the niche between Oldsmobile and Buick while La Salle would fill the niche between Buick and Cadillac.
Pontiac was born as a brand in 1926 in Pontiac, Michigan and as Oakland’s companion brand, it was made for those who wanted something superior to a Chevrolet but could not afford it in Oakland either.
The first Pontiac car is the Pontiac Big Six, which debuted at the 1926 New York National Automobile Show. It would be equipped with a 40hp, 3.1-liter, 6-cylinder engine. Such was the success of the Big Six that only in 1926 76,742 were sold and only 1 year after its release on the market, Pontiac reached the 6th position among the brands with the most sales in the United States and the 7th position among the American brands with the most sales. out of the country.
Such was its success that Pontiac would not only be the only “companion brand” to survive, but it would also sell more cars than Oakland, which led to the two merging under the Pontiac name, furthermore, Pontiac ended up opening operations in Osaka, Japan in 1927. Of course, it is worth saying that the Crack of 1929 was a great trigger in the disappearance of the other “companion” brands.
During the 1930s, Pontiacs adopted some bits of style taken from Buick and Oldsmobile, but a little to maintain GM’s corporate image and in 1933 it would definitely stop producing V6 engines to focus only on V8 engines. Pontiac would produce its cars in a stable manner and with good income until February 2, 1942, Pontiac would be the last American automotive brand to produce civilian cars before Detroit focused on the war effort, after the entry of the United States into the Second World War.
For the decade of the 50, Pontiac was still there producing good, reliable cars but without anything that made them stand out, in fact in one way or another Pontiac had become a brand oriented to the 3rd age by itself. That changes in the mid-50s, the Presidency of Pontiac is assumed by Semon “Buckie” Knudsen and he decides to give Pontiac an image wash, seeking to turn it into the performance brand of Chevrolet, the first thing he does is put Pontiac in the 2 most important motorsport categories in the United States, NASCAR and the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) with some good results for the brand, which participated in races under the premise of winning races on Sunday and selling cars on Monday.
But Pontiac’s aspiration to be GM’s performance division materialized in 1964, when a team of engineers led by John Z. DeLorean (yep… the same guy from the “Back to the Future” car), decided to grab a Pontiac Tempest and put a 398 engine on it and give life to the Pontiac GTO (Grand Tempest Option), the car that would unleash the biggest automotive cultural movement in Automotive History: the Muscle Car.
The GTO is joined by the Firebird and then the Trans-Am, all cars that became cultural icons in the United States and also in the world, thanks to television during the 60s, 70s and even the 80s. But the oil crisis of 1973 , the imposition of safety and emission control laws and the arrival of Japanese cars took away Detroit’s supremacy, large and powerful cars were no longer profitable for the public. Pontiac’s line of cars, like the rest of GM, dropped its sales as a result of this, but the worst impact was suffered by Pontiac, which with this new situation lost the possibility of being GM’s performance brand. For the 80s, Pontiac reinvented itself and tried to position itself again in that world with the Pontiac Fiero, the first and only mass-produced American car with a central engine, Pontiac managed to maintain itself but with great difficulty, however, in the 90s things got worse. worse for bad decisions.
Bad management started making bad decisions.
- Bad decision 1: Pontiac became a brand that brought out Chevrolet cars made up like Pontiac and although this phenomenon began in the 90s, the first signs occur in the early 80s with the Pontiac Grand Am that looked like a 2-door Chevrolet Malibu or the Pontiac Bonneville, which looked like a Chevrolet Caprice, but with the arrival of the 90s the makeup became “blatant” with the Pontiac version of the Chevrolet Lumina, the Pontiac Trans Sport “Why would people buy a Pontiac car that is more expensive if Was there a cheaper version of the same car from Chevrolet?
- Bad decision 2: Another mistake was the coating of pieces. In order not to spend making parts and parts in all cars, GM made generic parts for all brands and each one made up at their discretion, Pontiac used plastic on top of the part to make it visually different, it was cheaper to make a plastic piece for the lower part of the door to make a complete door in steel or aluminum.
- Bad Decision 3: The Pontiac Aztek could be considered another motive. Yes, I could consider it the first Crossover in the United States, quite innovative and with unusual options, a tent that can be set up in the rear, cup holders on the tailgate and waterproof seats, but it had many problems with the airbag and that gave her a bad name, plus she was ugly. As a consequence, Pontiac sold only 27,000 Azteks, when the minimum just to recoup the investment was 30,000 units.
A new try
Pontiac realizes that things are not going well and they decide to work on it, the problem is that what they did they did with the same lousy decision 1, but instead of making up American cars they do it with Australian cars. In 2004 Pontiac presented a new version of the Pontiac GTO, which was nothing more than a Holden Monaro (2001-2005) made in Australia and the problem was that whoever knew about Australian cars knew that the new GTO was a Monaro with makeup and whoever didn’t I knew it, I couldn’t find its resemblance to the mythical car of the 60s or 70s, also the press of the time was in charge of making the origin known, so after only 3 years the car was discontinued.
Then came the Pontiac G8, based on the Holden Commodore, with which the same thing happened, only that the press was friendlier and the G8 had, for being a good car, a better position. Pontiac’s 3rd attempt was the Pontiac Solstice, in fact, the 1st car created and designed by Pontiac in a long time and the first 2-seater car since the Fiero, it turned out not to be a bad car and it even had its fans, but just when Pontiac caught some air again, more problems appeared, in this case from its parent company, General Motors.
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