Road Ends Here

1 11 2010

Speed bumps. Potholes. Barricades. All of these serve to slow us down. They may not impede us, but they will certainly keep us from reaching our destination as fast as we would like to.

But sometimes the road just turns into a dead end. Not a through street. A cul-de-sac. Game over. Do not pass “Go,” and do not collect $200.

Say goodbye to Pontiac, for their road has reached its end.

First sold in 1926, Pontiacs came to be known as the muscle car division of General Motors. But a pesky little bankruptcy problem caused GM to have to shed brands and focus on its strongest component parts. Never mind that GM lost strategic focus years ago, and lost sight of what Pontiac was or could be.

Halloween 2010 marked the last day of General Motor’s relationships with dealers, effectively pounding the last nail in the driver’s side door.

And it’s a crying shame, for Pontiac will always hold a place in nearly every Baby Boomer heart. The oh-so-sleek-and-sexy Firebird Trans Ams of the 70s were the ultimate in street cred. But somewhere between my adolescence and middle age, Pontiac lost its way. It became my father’s Oldsmobuick, just another pedestrian line among several made by the biggest car manufacturer in the world.

And therein lay the problem. GM probably had a couple too many lines in its family to begin with, and their practice of basing four or five different cars (across these lines) on the same chassis and body style was a well-aimed bullet, even if accidental.

Other manufacturers use the mutliple line model as well, but not with the same depth that GM did. Ford has struggled with three; Chrysler/Fiat has trimmed from three to two; Toyota has done fine with its namesake, Lexus and Scion. Others have only two (e.g., Nissan and Inifiniti, and Honda and Acura).

Strategically, having five lines may have made sense on paper (entice young buyers with Chevy, and then trade them up through the lines and corresponding price points as they age), but it became a little too difficult to manage in real life. Pontiac wound up competing with (and cannibalizing sales from) Chevy, Buick and Oldsmobile, and vice-versa. Lines blurred. Cars began to look remarkably alike. And consumers had no idea what was going on.

But for those of us who grew up when Pontiac meant something, it is a brand that is going to be missed. Those Trans Ams were a symbol of our freedom, even our reckless abandon. Just pull up Smokey and the Bandit over on netflix, and you’ll get to live some of the excitement we young men fantasized about 33 years ago. The year I graduated from high school. the year Burt Reynolds gave Jackie Gleason hell on the highway. And quite possibly the last year Pontiac had any clue where it was going.

Dr “Snowman, What’s Your 20, You Got Your Ears On, Comeback?” Gerlich

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