During the dark days of the Great Recession when GM had to file for bankruptcy, it knew it had to shed some brands. There were obvious ones like Saturn, which never made money. Ever. And also GMC trucks was just redundant; they were rebadged Chevy trucks. But GM would never kill Pontiac.
But everyone was surprised when it was announced that while GM would keep Buick, Cadillac, GMC, and Chevy; everything else would be gone. That GM would kill Pontiac instead of Buick and GMC was hard to understand at the time.
Why didn’t GM kill GMC or Buick instead of Pontiac?
In spite of GMC being just a Chevy truck with a different badge, it was making money. Lots of money. Though hard to explain, GM knew it had to keep GMC because of that reason. It also gave its Cadillac and Buick dealers something other than a Chevy truck to offer buyers.
While Buick was sputtering in the US, in China it was the best-selling American vehicle. Sales were up and the future looked bright for Buick there. Even though it now is doing better and is starting to be defined as providing a wide range of SUVs, China is what saved it.
Pontiac had no China. And even though it had some great cars like the newly released 2009 G8 sedan and sporty Solstice two-seater, the chart below gives you all of the info you need to understand GM’s decision to kill Pontiac. Sales were suffering horribly.
Profits are the only reason to do anything in a vast corporation
Not that some of the other GM divisions were doing a lot better. But they were or they had a reason to exist based on profits. Profits are the only reason to do anything in a vast corporation like GM.
In over 40 years Pontiac sales volume never dipped below 400,000 units. But by 2003 it was headed south and way below that 400,000 magic mark. It was almost a straight line down from 2002 to the end.
Pontiac was tanking. And this was happening in spite of the afore-mentioned G8 and Solstice, but also the small G5 sedan, the midsize G6 sedan, Grand Prix with a starting price of $22,210; the Torrent, and the Vibe hatch. Pontiac had a lineup that covered a lot of ground.
A sedan, hatchback, and SUV for every pocketbook, just like any good GM division was supposed to have. The Torrent, if you’ve forgotten, replaced the ill-conceived Aztek. The sporty G5 was a slightly smaller two-door version of the G6. And the Vibe was an S-body built on the same platform as a Toyota Corolla.
Pontiac started releasing better models and just jettisoned some turkeys
With product czar, Bob Lutz at the helm it had either just started releasing some better models and had just jettisoned some turkeys. Though the numbers show otherwise, at least on paper Pontiac looked like it was saving itself. It had a product whiz in Lutz, some interesting models it had just released, and it had pared away the Aztek, GTO, and slow-selling minivans.
By 2009 GM was publicly saying that Saab, Saturn, and Hummer were either going under, or they would be continued by another manufacturer. Pontiac was also being eyed for the same fate. But a June bankruptcy filing was coming fast and GM needed to be in the best position possible.
On April 27, 2009, GM announced it would be killing off the Pontiac brand. It would be gone by 2010. It was “an extremely personal decision,” said GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson. About 2,600 dealers would be gone as would be 8,000 factory jobs.
But it had to be. The chart tells you everything you need to know.