By Byron Hurd
GM’s press conference on Sunday was not the most depressing of the day’s events (See: Chrysler), but it certainly wasn’t the most inspiring either. Wagoner’s communications team set him up with a healthy four hundred words that had nothing to do with GM’s financial trouble. Now that’s a solid corporate communications strategy when everything is business as usual, but when you’ve just been floated a loan by some 300 million of your peers, a little humility may be in order. (See: Chrysler — sensing a pattern?). But while ChryCo’s conference may have been the most depressing of the bunch, it was the non-event that was Pontiac’s presence at NAIAS that depressed, disturbed, and frankly offended me as both an enthusiast and as “member” of the press. If you’ve ever shown up to a party where you’re surrounded by dozens of people who were your friends just days before and suddenly don’t want to talk to you, look at you, acknowledge you, or even share the same hundred-square foot area of their apartment, then you know what it’s like to be Pontiac. You don’t know what you did (or didn’t do), but suddenly you’re the fattest, pinkest, most foul-smelling elephant ever to be under the table.
Let me put it like this: If you wanted to see Pontiac’s thrilling new G3 (Aveo clone), you could. In fact, you could open it up and monkey around inside to your heart’s content. Likewise with the G5, G6 folding hard-top, and Solstice GXP (soft-top). Also present were the G8 GXP and Solstice GXP hard-top, but neither were available for hands-on inspection. And to cap it all off, not only were Pontiac’s most successful volume car (The vanilla G6 Sedan/Coupe) and most prominent new offering (G8 GT/V6) missing completely from the floor, but the entirety of Pontiac’s exhibit was crammed into a corner several football fields away from the GM Podium. Even Saab managed prominent placement on GM’s red carpet, cozied up next to Cadillac.
In fact, due to Pontiac’s location near the loading area, their floor space was practically eliminated during GM’s press conference so they could parade the likes of the Opel Insignia and Chevrolet Cruze down the red carpet. Nothing will give your brand team confidence like pulling the rug out from under them (pun intended) so you can showcase a collection of production concepts that may not even see U.S. soil in this decade, if at all. Contrast this with Ford’s message. If you take a walk through the FoMoCo exhibit, you’ll be bombarded with current and near-term domestic product, and teased ever-so-lightly by those planned for the slightly-more-distant future. Ask a Ford PR rep how soon a given product will be in shrowrooms and not only will they provide you with an answer, but nine times out of ten they’ll tell you it’s due within the year, if not the current month. Volt? Camaro? Cruze? Saturn Aura/Insignia thing? Beat? Volt? Oh, you see, there’s been a delay. It’s somebody else’s fault.
Make no mistake — change comes slowly in the auto industry. Even a rush-to-production project can take well over a year from the time the first production-ready concept is shown. This isn’t a case of unreasonable expectations. To be frank, this is a time when everybody deserves some honesty, and GM is stringing their failing brands (and their followers) along without any real direction. GM seems content to watch their B/P/C dealer channel starve to death rather than eat the expense of doing it the decent way. At least Ransom E. Olds had some dignity in death.
If I were Pontiac/Buick/GMC General Manager Jim Bunnell, I’d be frantically updating my resume. Only a week ago there was plenty of e-speculation as to the circumstances surrounding the reported demise of the G8 ST. As of today, it is painfully obvious. Pontiac is not simply being right-sized; it’s being kicked to the curb. It was shameful to the point where I was nearly fuming. It’s a dead brand walking, and this is a hell of a way to announce it. If Pontiac still exists as a new car brand in two years, it will be nothing short of a miracle.