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My Little GTO is GFG
November 1, 2010 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Long-time 3rd place auto maker Pontiac has decided to call it quits. The maker of iconic TransAm and Firebird cars, along with the (cough) less than interesting Aztek, Pontiac has lost market share to Toyota and others, and as of 2009, held the 12th place slot. Pontiac, named for the Michigan city where the company started and an 18th-century Ottawa Indian chief, found itself on the wrong end of G.M.’s government-aided bankruptcy restructuring. Combined with a lack of moving forward with today's market, Pontiac seemed to be living in the past.

Are muscle cars themselves going out of style again? The Dodge Challenger sales figures seem to be trending downwards after an initial spike, while the Ford Mustang is also slightly down, but selling better overall.
posted by Old'n'Busted (136 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Another one bites the dust
posted by b1tr0t at 6:53 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


My first car was a Pontiac Fiero.

These are sad days for Michigan.
posted by morganannie at 6:54 AM on November 1, 2010


.
posted by ghharr at 6:54 AM on November 1, 2010


Eponysterical.
posted by surrendering monkey at 6:57 AM on November 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


I had an '80 Sunbird which went like hell since it was a tiny car with a 231 V6 stuffed into it but other than that it was a plasticy piece of crap. It was obvious then that GM couldn't compete with Honda and Toyota, I'm amazed that thirty years later, they still can't.
posted by octothorpe at 6:57 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Aztek maybe be the modern Edsel, but I love my 2001. Great car no matter what anyone says!
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:59 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm confused by 'long-time 3rd place'

The big 3 are Ford, GM, & Chrysler.

Pontiac is a GM brand, positioned above Chevrolet, below Cadillac, Buick, & Oldsmobile.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:59 AM on November 1, 2010 [17 favorites]


My first car was a 1988 trans am.

.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:03 AM on November 1, 2010


At this rate, future generations will need footnotes to understand the poems of Philip Levine. "Pontiac? What's that?"
posted by Ghidorah at 7:06 AM on November 1, 2010


The Aztek was the ugliest car I'd ever seen, and I lived through the Gremlin era. That said, I suppose it made the Prius, Insight, Cube, and anything by Scion more visually acceptable when they came out.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:07 AM on November 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


leotrosky: "For most of the 1960s, Pontiac ranked third in sales behind Chevy and Ford — a position now held by Toyota. " ... "By early 2009, Pontiac had fallen to 12th place in the United States market". Reading the other articles about this closing give the distinct impression that until about 2000-ish that Pontiac was doing ok.

The Current sales market (WSJ) has GMC at the bottom - with a truck.

surrendering monkey: yes, I know. Wasn't planned.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:08 AM on November 1, 2010


The Aztek was heavily criticized on its exterior styling, with Time magazine in 2007 calling the Aztek one of the worst cars of all time, and again in 2010 as the 34th worst invention of all time.

(Emphasis mine.) For a magazine called "Time" they sure don't have much historical perspective.
posted by DU at 7:08 AM on November 1, 2010


This is really too bad. Of all GM's marques, Pontiac was the one that had the most cars that interested me, and I might have potentially bought. The Solstice was a fun little coupe and far better looking than the Saturn version. The "G-cars" (G4, G5, G6, G8), which I've gotten a few times as rentals, felt solid and drove well — the G6 in particular is a very nice midsize, and the 4 is a good compact. Sure, the Firebird is extravagant, but it seemed like one extravagance in the lineup was defensible.

It looked like there was some actual innovation going on there, particularly in small cars, which wasn't and isn't likely to happen in the rest of GM's lineup. I gather they're putting their resources behind Chevrolet (e.g. the Volt is going to be a Chevy), but it seems like an odd fit.

To have killed Saturn and now Pontiac, the two bright lights in the whole damn company, while Buick (seriously, Buick?) and Cadillac live on ... this doesn't look like a recipe for a nimble company that's going to be able to respond quickly to increasingly severe competition.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:11 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Aztek wasn't the only ugly and recent Poniac. Their designers seemed to have no idea what makes a car look good.

Is their ceasing operations news? I thought it was decided months ago. In fact I thought they were gone already.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:14 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 7:15 AM on November 1, 2010


What a car that Trans Am was.
posted by NoMich at 7:16 AM on November 1, 2010


I will not shed a tear. Finally I can say goodbye to that sinking feeling when you walk into the rental car lot and discover you've been assigned a piece of shit Pontiac with 13 miles on the clock, wonky steering, and several things already broken.
posted by unSane at 7:17 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pontiac was already pronounced brain-dead and terminal a year ago. This news simply marks the date on which the doctors agreed to pull the plug. Not really news.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:17 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't think this was a "decision" by Pontiac. GM needed to jettison an underperforming division, and Pontiac was chosen (why them and not Buick is an interesting question). Besides, this is really just the end of their dealer contracts, they haven't built a car in a year or so.
posted by tommasz at 7:18 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I loved my red Sunbird. It was my favourite car. A '92 I think. I learned to drive on a red 1968 Firebird with a black hardtop. Nice car. Good-bye Pontiac.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:18 AM on November 1, 2010


Kadin2048: Drive a CTS and get back to me. The new Regal is also supposedly an eye-opener. But Saturn hadn't seen a model update in years by the time it was killed. As for Pontiac, the Solstice was too expensive for what it was, which was a Mazda MX-5 competitor (there was no logic behind making a car worse than the MX-5 more expensive). The last Pontiac that really got me was the new GTO, which was really just a Holden and which Pontiac clearly had no idea how to market.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:19 AM on November 1, 2010


Didn't GM announce they were doing this in April? Unless I missed it I don't even think 2011 models were on the market and given that it's November that should have been sort of a tip-off.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:19 AM on November 1, 2010


Buick and Cadillac are seen as old folks' cars in North America, but are like Mercedes and BMW in China. That's why they get to stick around and US-centric Saturn and Pontiac bite the dust.

I have very fond memories of my best friend's 1991 Firebird, mainly because my first car was a timid 1991 Ford Taurus.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:22 AM on November 1, 2010


why them and not Buick is an interesting question

One word: China
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:22 AM on November 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is their ceasing operations news? I thought it was decided months ago.

I definitely remember that axing Pontiac was part of the GM restructuring.

like Kadin2048, I felt that the Pontiacs were about the only product of GM that was kind of interesting. Sure, many of the cars they put out were ugly, but as someone I knew who drove an Aztek said, "When I'm driving it, I'm not the one looking at it."
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:28 AM on November 1, 2010


I figure GM will eventually consolidate down to one consumer Brand (Chevrolet), one truck brand (GMC) and one luxury brand (Cadillac). Honestly I think they could probably merge the Chevrolet and GMC lines at this point but they probably won't.

What's weird is that they actually seem to be making fairly decent cars this day but they have decades of bad press and really boring styling holding them back currently. Even when they go with interesting silhouettes they don't really work. They always seem oddly derivative like they are chasing other companies rather than striking out and trying something new and interesting.
posted by vuron at 7:30 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I worked for a big ad agency that had GM as a client, from about '98 to '08.

They kept saying 'built for drivers', but too often the Pontiacs were just re-badged Chevrolets. Few of the models had real 'driver' features. Try to get a standard tranny in most of them...

Also, I have seen very few North American cars whose aesthetics have pleased me. Especially in the bread-and-butter compacts and midsizes.

In '99 we rented a Pontiac Grand Prix 2-door in Vancouver, and drove through the mountains to Saskatchewan and back. It was a good solid car, and a touch sporty in performance. I don't think I would have bought one though.

A friend bought a new Aztek for cheap, about a year after they were released (and dissed). It's been dependable and practical. Still, it doesn't live up to the initial hype, and it combines the worst features of a minivan and a hatchback.

It will be interesting to see what the slimmed-down GM comes up with. The new VOLT looks promising and apparently is a great overall car (from a TV review show's point of view)
posted by Artful Codger at 7:30 AM on November 1, 2010


The Aztek was the ugliest car I'd ever seen, and I lived through the Gremlin era.

I've always coveted this Gremlin. But now I really want that tricked out Aztek with the inflatable bed and tent option. And it can carry 4 x 8 sheets of plywood!
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:35 AM on November 1, 2010


The Aztec was one hell of an ugly car - like so many American cars. And it wasn't "Scion" ugly - it was a motif mish mash. May have been a great car. But it was clearly designed by committee, with heavy reliance on focus groups, and it looked like it.

Dodge/Plymouth know how to make a great looking car. Now if they only knew how to make a great car.

Our 1973 Chevy Caprice Classic was such an abominable piece of crap, our entire family swore off GM products for the rest of our lives. Nobody, not one of us, has ever bought a GM since then. Toyota, Honda, Ford - I even bought a used Dodge Caravan. But not a GM.
posted by Xoebe at 7:35 AM on November 1, 2010


Just adding, I have no doubt that if/when GM comes back from its near-death and we at some point return to a more stable economy, the Firebird will return. They'll make millions just with the marketing alone. The name of the car is a goddamn phoenix.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:37 AM on November 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


So they no longer build excitement, then?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:39 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I much prefer the Saturn Sky to the Pontiac Solstice, but I always did like Pontiacs. When the Sunfire first came out, it was a good-looking little car. (The recent ones drive like ass, I can attest. Dunno about the early ones.)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:39 AM on November 1, 2010


I've been struggling to understand why I find the Aztek so aggressively offensive. The best that I can come up with is the ancient Greek concept of arete (esp. as discussed in Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). The Aztek is the complete opposite of arete. It's a conscious expression of: "I don't give a shit."
posted by Auden at 7:39 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Aztek, for all its ugliness, has found redemption in my mind as a cast member of, and running gag in, Breaking Bad.
posted by condour75 at 7:40 AM on November 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


I don't know why this makes me kind of sad. I'm not even a car person. I guess it's just another familiar American name gone as the world changes. Oh well.
posted by tamagogirl at 7:40 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Aw, those little Vibes are cute.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:42 AM on November 1, 2010


How could GM management be so stupid and remain so stupid for so long? We can pretend it's just a piece of GM all we want, but that's not the whole story. It's a bit of America that's going away. It's the former livelihoods of many people. And it's a portion of the industrial base that once was understood to be an important part of the national security.

When did heavy industry stop being important to national security? I don't recall that memo, and I can't imagine a realistic view that goes to the contrary.
posted by Goofyy at 7:43 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aw, those little Vibes are cute.

That's because they are Toyotas.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:45 AM on November 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


And it's a portion of the industrial base that once was understood to be an important part of the national security.

It's just a brand name.
posted by empath at 7:47 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lets see; Oldsmobile, Saab, Saturn, Hummer, and now Pontiac. Clearly what GM needs to do to respond from competition from Toyota is to buy the company. I'm sure they could run it into the ground in just a few years.
posted by TedW at 7:48 AM on November 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've owned a '91 Sunbird, an '88 Grand Am, and an '87 Firebird. I miss that Firebird, even though it had the wimpy V6.

Pontiac had a great chance to make it again with the new GTO, but instead of going for modern retro styling (see the new Mustang, the Charger, the Challenger, etc), they made it look like another Grand Prix with side badges. Why pay extra when your fancy muscle car looked like every other vehicle the company put out?
posted by mrbill at 7:48 AM on November 1, 2010


I recall someone once calling in to Car Talk to get advice on a new-car purchase. She was trying to decide between a Toyota Matrix and a Pontiac Aztek.

Tom and Ray collapsed in laughter.
posted by adamrice at 7:51 AM on November 1, 2010


My first car was a Ponitac Grand Prix. A 1990 model, in fact (drove it from '96 to '99). My current car is a 2004 Grand Prix (2005-present). In between I had a Bonneville. I've only ever owned Pontiacs. Man, I will miss that brand for the memories and nostalgia connection alone.
posted by Servo5678 at 7:53 AM on November 1, 2010


I can't say I remember ever having seen an Aztek (although I'm sure many will say that if I had I wouldn't forget), but in my mind's eye I'm picturing something like this.
posted by Philofacts at 7:57 AM on November 1, 2010


When did heavy industry stop being important to national security?

Huh? Who says heavy industry is the only thing that can drive an economy? It seems to me that mass car production is (at least nowadays) the sign of an emerging economy, not an established one. Car production has moved to Japan, then Korea and now China and India. Are you still pining for massive coal mines too?

For me, Pontiac lost the plot in the early '90s and never recovered. Yes the cars were just re-badged Chevys, but so was the TransAm/ Firebirds. The problem was they started over-emphasizing the plasticy bodies with those ugly lines down the side and stuck to that awful '90s car color palette after everyone else had recovered. Here in New England, a Pontiac almost always belongs to some grown-up dirtball who still feels the need to tear-ass away from every stop sign even now that they have 3 kids bouncing around unbuckled in the back seat. The cars ought to come with a carton of cigarettes.

Pontiac had success with that demographic, but it's a poisonous association. It came off like the company and the car owners were both striving to look a little better off than they felt about themselves. I can't think of a car brand that sold more cars in white, which just serves to draw attention to how well dirt sticks to those dumb bubble lines in the door panels.
posted by yerfatma at 7:58 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's just a brand name.

Well, perhaps so, but you can't really look at a 1958 Bonneville or a 1966 GTO and say that it was just a brand name. Unless you just hate automobiles.
posted by blucevalo at 8:00 AM on November 1, 2010


It seems to me that mass car production is (at least nowadays) the sign of an emerging economy, not an established one.

The Germans would strongly disagree with you on that one.
posted by kersplunk at 8:05 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, I'll admit it...I like the look of the Aztec.
posted by wabashbdw at 8:06 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who says heavy industry is the only thing that can drive an economy?

that's not what he asked - you need heavy industry to build military hardware
posted by pyramid termite at 8:09 AM on November 1, 2010


Allow me to say: good riddance to bad rubbish.

I'm as sympathetic to nostalgia for first cars and old beaters as anyone---though I spent my high-school afternoons and weekends putting bondo on a Camaro rather than a fancy-pants Trans-Am----but Pontiac has needed to go for years. It's a symptom of all that is wrong with the North American car industry. Selling the same car with four, or even five different brandings (Cimmaron, anyone?) is well past being a successful marketing strategy. GM needs to simplify, stop advertising the same platform with two, three, or for different ad campaigns, close the redundant dealerships and reduce costs.

The multiple GM brand strategy was marketing sock-puppetry designed to convice people to buy an idea of value rather than a good car. Back when GM and Ford dominated the market, with Chrysler and AMC only minority players, the car companies needed some way to fool the consumer into thinking they had choices. GMs created six brands, Ford three and so on. You didn't buy GM, you bought Chevy or Olds or a Caddy, never mind that they were all the same crappy J platform compact. You paid more or less mostly for the name plate on the trunk, not the car or even the options.

GMs (and Ford's and Chrysler's) differential branding was all about getting the consumer to buy into the idea of cars as status items, that the base car was less valuable than the brand family and the model name. It was an exercise in cynical market manipulation by an oligopoly of two (and a half) companies that lasted for two generations. Indeed, when exposed to real competition with value-priced cars, this racket collapsed in only a few years.

I'm glad to see the GM hucksters folding their tents. It means that this 50 year shell-game is finally ending.
posted by bonehead at 8:12 AM on November 1, 2010 [17 favorites]


…you can't really look at a 1958 Bonneville or a 1966 GTO and say that it was just a brand name.

Oh, really? Is that—

Unless you just hate automobiles.

Oh. Maybe that's it.
posted by wreckingball at 8:18 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, if this means that GM are no longer producing automobiles under the Pontiac brand, does it mean that the factories are being shuttered, or are they being retooled? In terms of an iconic American brand going under, it's sad (although brands can always be revived and often profit from a little down-time), but in terms of actual jobs lost it's hard to gauge the impact; I guess that the factories were already shut down or being retooled, so we're talking about brand teams, designers, PR people and the like now being let go?

From across the Atlantic, my main experience of the Pontiac was KITT. Seen in real life, driven by collectors or enthusiasts, they seemed almost unearthly, at least in the austerity of the 80s - fat cruisers sprouting fins and raised headlights. It's odd to look at the Solstice and see such a tiny, rounded shape under the same brand.

(Fun fact - in the TV Movie Knight Rider 2000 the new model Knight Industries supercar was supposed to be the 1988 Pontiac Banshee, but the makers ended up putting a custom skin on a Mitsubishi-made Dodge Stealth - a Japanese car pretending to be an American car pretending to be another American car. That feels like it ought to be a trenchant metaphor for something, but probably isn't.)
posted by DNye at 8:19 AM on November 1, 2010


I always liked the Solstice. It's pretty much the only actually-American car in production that had a vaguely interesting design aesthetic.

Personally, I thought that Pontiac was one of GM's stronger brands. Chevy hasn't produced a decent car in my lifetime, Buick's customers are approaching the age where they really shouldn't be behind the wheel, and although Cadillac's finally doing some interesting things, they no longer come in pink, and I'm definitely not in their target demographic.

My prediction remains that Ford will be the only American automaker remaining at the end of the decade.
posted by schmod at 8:25 AM on November 1, 2010


Aw, we had a 6000 LE back in the early '90s. 'Twas a fine vehicle, until my sister rolled it into a ditch.

*Pours a litre of Castrol onto the curb*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:35 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's the equivalent of prosopagnosia but for all cars made in the last forty years or so? Because I must have that. They all just look like... cars. The Aztek looks like a sort of station-wagony car. I understand intellectually that it must be terribly ugly, because everyone seems to agree that it's the ugliest thing that was ever ugly, but I just can't see the ugly.

It's terribly frustrating.
posted by ook at 8:37 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ford is also ahead of the consolidation trend, having quickly axed everything except the Ford and Lincoln brands.

Great company, great leadership under Mulally.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:37 AM on November 1, 2010


I worked for suppliers to the automotive industry in Michigan from 1976 until 2000, and during that time I drove a stunning (to me) variety of American product as part of that employment. Over that time, one also picks up things that aren't part of the public brand perception. For example, while Chevrolet and Pontiac often had the same vehicle with slight differences, it was always easier for Pontiac to try something new or different in engineering--whether for driver/passenger comfort, or for engine/powertrain performance. The management of the division was always more amenable to forward thinking, and the upper GM consulate was more willing to try something on Pontiac than to mess with the Bread & Butter.

Much of the rest of it was purely marketing. Add a few faux walnut touches & a little more expensive paint & trim=Buick & Oldsmobile.

Much of these changed with the homogenization of GM into CPC/BOC. At that point, it would have made more sense for them to begin to pare the lines--in CPC (Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada) they could have kept the midsize & full size sedans, made Pontiac the brand for sporty interpretations of the American car & then had GMC make all the vans & trucks. Same sort of product rationalization for Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac. They had started Saturn by then, make them the home for the compacts, subcompacts, and the innovation place for electric/hybrid/hydrogen or other alternate fules. And then--horror of horrors--sell them all at the same place.

I'm not blaming dealers here; they get a lot of the blame, but they didn't set up the rules of the car selling business. Instead they wound up competing against each other and cannibalizing each others sales--instead of focusing on outward competition. Sure they saw Ford as a competitor, but no one at GM really saw Chrysler as a competitor until Chrysler got some nerve in the 90s bringing out the Viper and the PT Cruiser. I'm not weighing in on the viability of wither of those, but they caught people's attention. Enough so that Daimler thought they were worth a spin (the fools!). And GM were completely tone deaf about Japanese cars until it was way too late. They needed to start changing in the mid 70s when Honda & Nissan (then Datsun) and Toyota first started making inroads.

I met hundreds of engineers in my time and most were committed to trying to improve the product they were responsible for. I worked in engine & powertrain, so I never had any input into styling--but I almost horked the first Aztek I saw. I always thought that some kid who played with Transformers a little too much got a job as a stylist at Pontiac. I hesitate to call it the worst ever, though, because to me, it was abominations like the Fairmont and the Vega/Monza, and the Aries K/Volare that were the true abominations. Add to those the Chevy Astro van made to compete with the Dodge Caravan. Talk about a lame interpretation of the family van. Gawdawful.

Among the things I experienced as a driver of more than 20 vehicles in 25 years: Plastic "chrome" that looked bad the day you took the car home; failure to galvanize some 100,000 tin wheel well liners that would lead to front steering corrosion; engine bearings with a life rating of 50K (at a time the mfr was selling 100K powertrain warranties, thank god) styling that was just.plain.boring. Those are what killed GM & Chrysler. That and the bloated, self-competing marketing structure that rewarded mediocrity and punished innovation.

Best cars I had in all that time as a salaryman: a Ford LTD II, and a Chevrolet Malibu. Worst was a Dodge Intrepid and a Pontiac LeMans. I managed to talk my boss into an "upgrade" from a 1980 Mercury Zephyr/Ford Fairmont into an Aries K to try to get more Chrysler business (and besides, at Highland Park in the 80s, if you didn't drive Chrysler, you didn't park in the gated lot--and I knew several people whose cars were stolen parking in the outside vendor lots).

But at the end of that ride, I bought a Toyota and have never had a more reliable vehicle.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:43 AM on November 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


I can't say I remember ever having seen an Aztek (although I'm sure many will say that if I had I wouldn't forget), but in my mind's eye I'm picturing something like this.

Homer's legendary cupholdermobile is not far off actually.

The Aztek was a sort of sporty, sort of practical midsize car that was seemingly targeted at young, hip, style-conscious urbanites whose "active" lifestyles involved way too much hardcore backcountry hiking to be properly serviced by a compact. (The rear of the Aztek turned into a kind of pup tent.) Some guy who swilled lattes on weekdays, sure - hey, no archaic he-man stereotype defined him, bub - but on the weekend he was way back of beyond, doing yoga while the fish he caught himself grilled behind him in just enough lemon and herbs to let you know he had a refined palate but wasn't an effete snob. Next week he might be at Coachella for the tunage or Baja for the waves, or driving his own bad self to that hacker conference in Silicon Valley because that's the kind of impulsive free-spirited modern nomad he is. And whatever he chooses - whatever he chooses - he's got his Aztek to get him there and keep him snug at night. Your average semi-metrosexual, rastified-by-10-percent-or-so, condo-loft-dwelling knowledge industrial proletarian. That's your Aztek driver.

If this sounds like a creature that could only possibly exist in the focus group reports of an out-of-touch company ruled by the worst kind of committee thinking - yeah, that's it exactly.

Here's the Aztek in what Pontiac believed to be its natural habitat.

Now look at this - a 1966 Pontiac GTO.

The distance between those two vehicles is the distance between a confident industry that knows exactly what you want and how to build it and one so terrified of a misstep it listens to the blather of MBA grads as if it were holy writ. The distance between an ascendent business and a collapsing one.
posted by gompa at 8:44 AM on November 1, 2010 [16 favorites]


The Pontiac Aztek is the Platonic Ideal of ugly car. It exists at the 0 degrees Kelvin at which all automotive aesthetics stops. It moves at the universal automotive ugliness limit C beyond which no ugly can go, doomed to orbit forever around a black hole of design from which no beauty, elegance, or even practicality can escape.

It is available, apparently, only in a color in which no rational person wants to see an object so large and ungainly; a color with only two meanings: a) Danger! and 2) This mustard contains no actual mustard.

An Aztek with idiotic bumper stickers, plastic ground effects, a flying bridge, and leopard-skin seat covers is no uglier than a stock Aztek. An Aztek that's been totalled in a collision is no uglier than a stock Aztek. An Aztek driven by Ambassador Kollos is no uglier than a stock Aztek.

It may be possible for a car to be as ugly as a Pontiac Aztek, but it is not possible to surpass it. That's just physics.
posted by Herodios at 8:45 AM on November 1, 2010 [16 favorites]


When I was a kid in the 70s, I was endlessly fascinated by Firebirds. Putting a huge phoenix on the hood of your car seemed like such a superheroesque, kiddy thing to do. (I had much the same reaction to Graceland when I went there in the mid-nineties; it was very much like what my dream house would have been twenty years earlier, when I was twelve.) A lot of the American cars of that era seem to have that same sort of verve and sense of experimentation--the coke-bottle Corvette based on the Mako Shark II concept, which in turn would go on to inspire the Batmobiles in the Tim Burton Batman movies, the scrappy little Ford Maverick, even the much-maligned Pacer, which at least seemed to hang together in its own weird way, unlike the sad, misbegotten Aztek. Then American cars seemed to get boring at about the same time that Japanese cars became visually appealing as well as economical, and it was pretty much all over.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:51 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I shall "pour one out" (okay, not really) for the boatlike '73 Catalina, with its ridiculous 400 big block 8 cylinder that got about 8 miles to the gallon, that I bought very used in high school for $250, drove for three years, and sold to some dude from my home town for $200, after I'd left home to go to college. I remember fondly aimlessly cruising the back roads of my small rural home, watching the gas gauge creep visibly towards E.
posted by nanojath at 8:56 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm starting to think that the Aztek was designed specifically for me, personally. I've done everything it was designed for and that's why I eagerly awaited it since its announcement. We've spent many nights camping in it - from base camp for a Katahdin climb to weathering a tropical storm on the beach at Cape Hatteras. Its actually really great. Fits my surfboards and full sheets of plywood. The car (brand new) also survived a head on collision. Aside from the A/C no longer working properly, its hard to find much to complain about. I've had it for ten years and hopefully many more. Can't imagine what I'll drive after that....
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:57 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


why them and not Buick is an interesting question

One of the enduring mysteries of life is how huge Buick is in China, but there you go. GM moves a whole bunch of Buicks there. It may be a suck brand here, but it's huge there.

On preview, the 10th Regiment of Foot has beaten me to it.
posted by eriko at 8:58 AM on November 1, 2010


Ah, my Vibe, the last of the Pontiacs.
posted by No Robots at 9:09 AM on November 1, 2010


This was the coolest Pontiac ever, though.
posted by TedW at 9:10 AM on November 1, 2010


The first car I bought, in 1989, was a very used 1980 Pontiac Acadian. Total shitbox. I paid $900 for it in my second year of University, so I could drive back and forth from London to Toronto and not have to take the train. The first time I took a group of friends out in it, one of them reached under the passenger seat and pulled out this old pocket-sized paperback called "The Shame Game" which was this bizarre 1970's porn story with completely unrelated black and white pictures of ugly, naked white people from the 60's having sex. My pleading claims of "It's not mine!" and "I swear I didn't know that was there!" just sounded pathetic in response to their taunts and laughter.

Constantly broke down on the 401 in the snow, usually around Woodstock. I remember spending most of my money on beer during the week and hoping that the gas would last until Friday, when I'd put $5 in, crossing my fingers that gas prices wouldn't go up to 40¢ a litre from 38¢ or whatever it was at the time. Once I spun a complete 360 on my way to my summer job at The Beer Store in Gravenhurst and had to get pulled out of the ditch by two local guys.

I sold it to my brother sometime in the early '90's for $500 and his Roland 606 Drum Machine, which I still use. He drove it for a few years and then abandoned it in a field at York University.
posted by chococat at 9:14 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have any ideas on why GM is throwing away these brands rather than selling them (as brands) to other companies, or to their own spinoff companies?
posted by thefool at 9:21 AM on November 1, 2010


.
posted by clavdivs at 9:21 AM on November 1, 2010


My dad was a Pontiac man from the beginning up until the mid-90s. Losing the brand is like losing yet another piece of him. Oh well, that's what I get for being born into a consumerist society.
posted by Eideteker at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2010


Ok, I'll admit it...I like the look of the Aztec.

Seconded. To me, the eye-bleeder is the PT Cruiser.
posted by mreleganza at 9:32 AM on November 1, 2010


I recall someone once calling in to Car Talk to get advice on a new-car purchase. She was trying to decide between a Toyota Matrix and a Pontiac Aztek.

Tom and Ray collapsed in laughter.


Yeah, but collapsing in laughter is their response to almost any auditory stimuli. You can call in with a question about prisoner transport trucks at Auschwitz, and they'd start cackling.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:39 AM on November 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ok, I'll admit it...I like the look of the Aztec.

Seconded. To me, the eye-bleeder is the PT Cruiser.


The PT Cruiser's not really ugly, per se. It just looks like a rather vague attempt at a 1940s panel van in miniature. And if you don't appreciate that particular brand of retro, the Chevvy Houyhnhnm is basically the same thing not done as well.

Advantage over the Aztek: you can tell the bow from stern.
posted by Herodios at 9:41 AM on November 1, 2010


Wait, we're talking about fugly cars and no one's talking about the misguided attempts at style caused by simply upsizing other cars, whether it's the PT Cruiser's bigger brother the Chevy HHR, or Ford's disgusting MINI clone, the Ford Flex.

Strangely enough, though I hate the Aztek, I really like the Toyota Matrix. Not quite sure what's up with that...
posted by Xoder at 9:50 AM on November 1, 2010


GM ought to bring back Geo.
posted by box at 9:52 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love that Wikipedia article about Buick in China, if only for this:

"In 2006, Buick debuted the Chinese version of the LaCrosse sedan. The only differences are exterior design, different engine choices, and a facelifted interior."

So the only differences are the outside, the powertrain, and the inside.

Other than those small things, it's the same.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:54 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


"I've always coveted this Gremlin."

Which is actually a Pacer.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:55 AM on November 1, 2010


Cars are like beer -- people don't want the ones their parents liked...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:57 AM on November 1, 2010


The Aztek was actually pseudo-innovative in that it was the beginning of the softening of the SUV into the Crossover(from what to what? don't ask me).

It shared a platform and a Mexican assembly plant with the Buick Rendezvous.

Let's compare the two, shall we?

The Aztek appears to have half of it's front fascia attached to the top of it's front fascia. That seam from the turn signal to the wheel arch? Screams design integrity, doesn't it? Fender arches appear to drawn by someone with a great love for the Milwaukee Sawzall, and the fenders themselves look as if they are all trim, and attached with double-sided tape. Let's sticky tape something on the lower edge to join the two ugly fenders, and throw in an exposed gas cap for no reason. And since it's intended be a utility vehicle, let's give it a fastback. For no reason.

The Rendezvous just appears like every other crossover vehicle, but at least the front end is one front end, the taped on body pieces are at least coherent to the rest of the vehicle, and while not pretty, it's inoffensive.

Production on these vehicles ran from 2001 to 2007. Pontiac planned on selling 75,000 Azteks, and Buick hoped to sell 20-30,000 Rendezvous. Azteks never sold more than 27,000, and the Rendezvous made up the bulk of the plant's production capacity.
posted by dglynn at 9:58 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was discussing the death of Pontiac with may father a while back and one of his quips made me smile: If only they'd touted the fact that all the recycled plastic in America ends up in their tasteless body cladding*, they could have positioned themselves as the American Prius -- Ugly, yet greenish.

That said, the new GTO and G8 GTX were interesting cars (From Australia! Mad Max street cred!), and I had high hopes that Pontiac would find its way back from the badge-engineered hole they'd ended up in. Oh well, I'll always have my memories of my mom's 74 avocado green LeMans with it's lumpy idling 350 V8 and the smell of those vinyl seats on cold winter's mornings...
*not a true fact, although it may contain trace amounts of truthiness...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:03 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is worth noting that the original Aztek concept was popular and the styling was well-regarded. However, when it came time to put it into production they used an existing larger minivan platform to cut costs (because of the low (by GM standards) production rate.) The adaption caused the stretched and deformed design. The Aztek was a functional, well designed crossover that was innovative and ahead of the market's move to crossovers, but the cosmetic styling (caused by fiscal compromises) killed an otherwise good product.
posted by theclaw at 10:03 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have any ideas on why GM is throwing away these brands rather than selling them (as brands) to other companies, or to their own spinoff companies?
posted by thefool at 9:21 AM on November 1 [+] [!]


The answer's in the question.
posted by punkfloyd at 10:04 AM on November 1, 2010


The Aztec exterior styling would be unremarkable if it wasn't for that weird hood scoop. If you cover that with your hand it just looks like a fairly ugly crossover. As opposed to a stupendously ugly crossover.
posted by unSane at 10:07 AM on November 1, 2010


At least with the Aztek, you can see out of it. Try looking around in a Chrysler Pacifica and you'll understand why they canceled it after only a few years. Dangerous fucking car.
but it rides pretty smooth
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:09 AM on November 1, 2010


Does anyone have any ideas on why GM is throwing away these brands rather than selling them (as brands) to other companies, or to their own spinoff companies?

Because there's nothing to sell really. There are dealship networks and such, but that's all. There are no Buick or Pontiac or Chevy plants, just GM plants where Chevys, Buicks and Pontiacs were all made by the same workers with the same equipment. There's only one finance group: GMAC. The only brand that had distinct a supply-chain and manufacturing was Saturn and that deal collapsed because no one was interested.
posted by bonehead at 10:13 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


A friend and I were able to quantify the ugliness of the Aztek; we actually went over one with a tape measure and looked at all the key visual proportions of the car, things like ratio of window height to overall body height, wheel diameter to height and overall length, hood length to width, windshield area to front silhouette, headlight to grille area... about 40 different measurements. Kind of arcane design theory elements, but the stuff that, when the ratios are right, you get a car that your eyes really love to look at, cars like classic Rolls-Royces and BMW M5s.

In every case, from any angle you look at it, the Aztek gets them all wrong. There are simply no eye-pleasing proportions anywhere on the exterior design. We weren't just looking for Golden Ratio, either, we looked at several different kinds of attractive design proportions.

So the Aztek can be mathematically demonstrated to be aesthetically hideous. The inside was quite nice, though, and the outdoor lifestyle features were pretty good too, Honda emulated and improved on them with the Element.

Sadly, we didn't keep or blog any of that. Sigh.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:20 AM on November 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


So will Oprah be giving away the remaining cars as well?
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:30 AM on November 1, 2010


I'm chiming in here to say 1.) The Aztec was and is still a beautiful car (I still kinda want one), and I am happy yet sad to see more of them on the road due to the sad death of Pontiac, and 2.)

.

For Pontiac will be a brand that will be deeply missed. The Sunfire looked great, so did the Firebird and Solstice. I really (and by this I mean just now) wonder why GM didn't just take the best cars (not trucks, SUVs, and the like) of Chevy and the best of Pontiac and merged the two into a post bankruptcy killer brand complete with the above mentioned cars, the Camaro, Corvette, Cavalier/Cobalt, Malibu, etc. Might want to throw a Saturn or two into the mix.

The logo too... the ones on the last models, enlarged and the brightest red I have seen... that stands out.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 10:38 AM on November 1, 2010


Does anyone have any ideas on why GM is throwing away these brands rather than selling them (as brands) to other companies, or to their own spinoff companies?

For the smaller brands (Saturn, HUMMER, Saab) they tried. They managed to gave Saab away to a Russian-backed vanity manufacturer who has produced less than 300 vehicles overall (largely built from VW's parts bin.) Penske's attempt to turn Saturn into a 'virtual' manufacturer fell through when he couldn't convince another manufacturer with excess capacity to manufacture vehicles to be rebranded as Saturns.

The real problem for GM is that the only people interested in buying established a dealer network and trademark/intellectual property rights are the people you are least interested in selling to: manufacturers in developing countries with low labor costs. There is already too much global auto manufacturing capacity; enabling lower-cost competitors to enter the U.S. domestic market will cost GM much more than the few million that they might optimistically make on the sale. To some extent this happened anyway: Ford's Volvo went to the Chinese, Spyker's backer is talking about opening a Saab 9-3 plant in Russia, Land Rover and Jaguar went to India's Tata conglomerate.
posted by theclaw at 10:53 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


.
posted by njbradburn at 10:58 AM on November 1, 2010


I remember colleagues on A plans or Z plans who were steered into Azteks at absolutely phenomenal pricing in order to justify the production. People whose pensions were originally earned at Pontiac and their extended families couuld get them for astoundingly cheap, but that still couldn't overcome the Ugly.

In the late 70s/early 80s, Oldsmobile came out with diesel engine options for their fleet, and somewhat strong-armed execs into driving those beasts as a way to try to popularize the decision to combat the fuel economy of the nascent Accord and Cressida with diesels.

Driving around Lansing, it was easy to spot the Olds executives in 1982--they were the ones whose sputtering behemoths couldn't quite make it up what little hill there is coming up South Cedar toward Lansing Car Assembly.

Ten years later, Olds had a shot at regaining the luster they had in the days of the Rocket 88--John Rock was one of the last division presidents with some vision & tenacity. It was the marketing geniuses like Ron Zarella and beancounters like Roger Smith who killed GM. The shoddy product they put out was the physical harbinger of design by committee.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:02 AM on November 1, 2010


I feel like I should have something to contribute to this thread, but...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:10 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess it's time to hop in the Pontiac GTFO.
posted by zsazsa at 11:11 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


At least with the Aztek, you can see out of it. Try looking around in a Chrysler Pacifica and you'll understand why they canceled it after only a few years. Dangerous fucking car.
but it rides pretty smooth


I drove a friend to/from the airport in his Pacifica, and holy crap, I'm never driving one of those again. It was a nice idea, and rode well, but it was absolutely terrifying to drive around Newark Airport (where I'm normally very comfortable driving), because there was practically no visibility (even by already-poor SUV standards). I was more comfortable driving my huge old Chevy cargo van, where I at least had huge side-view mirrors, and the small consolation that other drivers knew I couldn't see out the back, and therefore kept their distance.

I also had possession of a PT Cruiser for about 2 months last year, and cannot even begin to fathom how Chrysler sold so many of them. Talk about a series of bad compromises: Big engine, gas-guzzler, but not at all fast or responsive. Small, cramped, but weighed more than some SUVs, and wasn't particularly maneuverable or easy to park. Poor visibility too. I literally cannot think of a small car currently in production that I'd prefer less than the PT Cruiser. I'd rather walk.
posted by schmod at 11:14 AM on November 1, 2010


The Aztek was actually pseudo-innovative in that it was the beginning of the softening of the SUV into the Crossover...

Followed by:
The Aztek was a functional, well designed crossover that was innovative and ahead of the market's move to crossovers...

And
Production on these vehicles ran from 2001 to 2007.

But:
The Subaru Forester is an all-wheel drive crossover station wagon manufactured since 1997..
Or, for that matter:
The AMC Eagles inaugurated a new product category of "sport-utility" or Crossover SUV. Introduced in August 1979 for the 1980 model year,...
Aztek was not the beginning, and was not ahead of the market. It was just a particularly ugly attempt to ride an already-breaking wave. To me, it always looked like two cars that had been sectioned, one above the beltline and one below, and the top of the latter stacked on the bottom of the former.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:24 AM on November 1, 2010


It's a symptom of all that is wrong with the North American car industry. Selling the same car with four, or even five different brandings . . . The multiple GM brand strategy was marketing sock-puppetry designed to convice people to buy an idea of value rather than a good car . . . You paid more or less mostly for the name plate on the trunk, not the car or even the options . . . GMs (and Ford's and Chrysler's) differential branding was all about getting the consumer to buy into the idea of cars as status items

Why is this true for North American car companies but not German ones? Audi/ Volkswagen runs the same gag, just in a more expensive way.
posted by yerfatma at 11:24 AM on November 1, 2010


Oldsmobile can be mourned. My Olds 98 Touring Sedan was awesome. The original Aurora was amazing.

Pontiac has been withering away since the late '70s and will not be missed except by the UAW.

How many car companies can GM maintain? I would say all we really need is Chevy and Cadillac, and even that is pushing it. Quite a few Cadillacs are just a Chevy with nice wood on the dash.
posted by Sukiari at 11:33 AM on November 1, 2010


I think because Audi's and Volkswagons (and Honda/Acura and Toyota/Lexus) sell models with big enough differences, bothin in terms of engineering and finish, between their basic and luxury brands. GM would change paint colour and a bit of trim and sell the same car as a Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and sometimes a Cadilac. At least VW isn't trying to sell a rebadged Gulf as an Audi, Porche and Bugatti. In the 1980's, that was exactly GM's marketing strategy.
posted by bonehead at 11:36 AM on November 1, 2010


Chevy, Caddy and Truck would be enough, I would think. GM Truck has always been solid and hasn't suffered the dilution of the car brands.
posted by bonehead at 11:37 AM on November 1, 2010


Aw, we had a 6000 LE back in the early '90s. 'Twas a fine vehicle, until my sister rolled it into a ditch.

We also had an '86 6000LE. My grandmother misread the name badge on the trunk and called it the Google.

My first car was a 1982 Pontiac Phoenix (bought used from same grandmother) known as the silver bullet. Drove that sucker into the ground and got 12 years out of it, but I cannot say I miss anything about it.

.
posted by bgrebs at 11:46 AM on November 1, 2010


I also had possession of a PT Cruiser for about 2 months last year, and cannot even begin to fathom how Chrysler sold so many of them.

My somewhat insufferable ex-hippie corporate-exec boomer uncle bought one because it flattered just the right part of his rapidly fading sense of noncomformist individuality. And because his kids had all finally left home, which apparently is official boomer license to make any number of dramatic acts of total irresponsibility.

Just a single data point, but maybe a signficant one.

In other recent anecdata trends at gompa HQ, I've noticed that the worst drivers, by far, in local traffic here in Calgary are crossover drivers. Chevy Equinox drivers in particular seem to have mastered the art of distracted, erratic, cellphone-to-one-ear, latte-in-hand dangerous driving. What is it about the crossover that appeals so much to such shitty drivers?
posted by gompa at 11:56 AM on November 1, 2010


What's the equivalent of prosopagnosia but for all cars made in the last forty years or so?

Prosfatautokinetagnosia would describe your condition when it comes to recent cars.

I'm not that interested in cars, but it'll be hard to convince me the Firebirds weren't a thing of beauty.
posted by ersatz at 12:26 PM on November 1, 2010


Both my daily drivers are Pontiacs, a '55 Pathfinder (a canadian pontiac business coupe) and a '68 Tempest. I've owned dozens of Pontiacs (just in the '68 model year I've had 2 2-door Tempest sedans, a Le mans hardtop and convertible, a GTO hardtop and a GTO convertible, a a 2-door hardtop Catalina). But since my rule of thumb is to never own anything with a check engine light (or a third brake light), they couldn't have counted on me as a customer. On the other hand, you can buy just about everything in reproduction (Butler Performance has both new cast iron and aluminum Pontiac V-8s).
posted by 445supermag at 12:53 PM on November 1, 2010


Re: the Firebird "Putting a huge phoenix on the hood of your car..."

I prefer to call it the Thunder Chicken. Numerous examples here.
posted by exogenous at 1:10 PM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the middle of the '08 stock market collapse (and seriously, in the middle -- this was the weekend after Lehman went down) I bought an '06 Pontiac Vibe. I wanted to dump my crapbox Ford Contour (one of those lesser-known Ford mistakes -- as the Mondeo it was a great mid-sized sedan in Europe, but as the Contour it was a no legroom piece of crap in the US) and get something different.

After a few rounds with rental cars I decided I wanted something like a small SUV, something that wasn't a battle tank but had the cargo room I needed for Costco and Home Depot runs. I settled on the Toyota Matrix, but then I discovered the Vibe was a Matrix with two key differences: uglier Pontiac styling and a cheaper price tag.

I bought it and have been very happy since then. The one big issue is that GM/Pontiac can't paint on plastic -- I've had the paint slowly peeling off the back bumper ever since I bought it. Other than that, it gets reasonable mileage in Seattle's miserable traffic (20mpg) and I seriously can haul immense amounts of crap I couldn't in the Contour or in our other car.

I bought the car the week after Lehman. Other than a window shopper, I was the only one in the dealers. GM started to crash hard a few days later. The dealership chose to take GM's buyout and cease selling new cars in October, then closed for good in December. Then Pontiac ended their deal with Toyota and the Vibe stopped rolling off the line earlier this year. And then GM killed off Pontiac shortly after that.

I believe my grandparents owned a Packard in the 1950s. So as a family we know how to pick winners.
posted by dw at 1:21 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chevy Equinox drivers in particular seem to have mastered the art of distracted, erratic, cellphone-to-one-ear, latte-in-hand dangerous driving. What is it about the crossover that appeals so much to such shitty drivers?

I've driven a rental Equinox, and I would not call it a "crossover." It's a mid-sized SUV. Well, mid-sized for Chevy. I think you can fit a Toyota Landcruiser in the trunk.
posted by dw at 1:23 PM on November 1, 2010


The new 2011 Mediocrity ...from Pontiac?
posted by howling fantods at 1:40 PM on November 1, 2010


I've driven a rental Equinox, and I would not call it a "crossover." It's a mid-sized SUV. Well, mid-sized for Chevy. I think you can fit a Toyota Landcruiser in the trunk.

I've noticed this trend of people calling mid- to full-sized SUVs "crossovers." Honda Pilots and Toyota Highlanders aren't crossovers, people. I don't know if they're being marketed that way, but I'm sure the manufacturers are in no hurry to correct them. I suspect it's their way of making themselves feel better about driving a gas-guzzling, environment-killing tank. As if merely calling it a "crossover" convinces them it's only a small step up from a car.
posted by howling fantods at 1:50 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


They made cars called 'Solstice' and 'Equinox'? Who was running Pontiac, Wiccans?
posted by box at 2:05 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always thought that car names and weird American over-the-counter drug product names were interchangeable.

"The brand new, re-designed Chrysler Abreva"

"Introducing the all-new 2011 Chevrolet Boniva"

etc.
posted by chococat at 2:52 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Crossovers are mostly just station-wagons and minivan variants with some flavour of 4wd or AWD. And maybe a roof-rack. They're almost always unibody.

Old-skule SUVs were built on truck platforms, with heavy frames, big powerplants and drivetrains, and other off-road outerwear that made them tippy and gas-guzzlers.

Crossovers are a more practical choice for most former SUV customers, who will almost never need the truck-size strength, road clearance and power of a truck or SUV, but can't bring themselves to buy a minivan...

(disclaimer - I have an old Xterra but it's not a daily driver. I swear. It's mainly for towing the sailboat or picking up hardware)
posted by Artful Codger at 3:06 PM on November 1, 2010


I just listened to a great This American Life episode about how the Japanese manufacturing methods learning by collaborating with Toyota at the Nummi plant never managed to take hold at GM. Toyota showed them the way but GM management and unions just couldn't follow.
posted by octothorpe at 3:20 PM on November 1, 2010


Sniff, sniff.

My first boyfriend's first car was a Pontiac 1000 (looked like a Chevette). My best friend's first car was a Pontiac 6000, a hand me down from her mom.

My first car was a Buick, but my first cool car was a 1969 Pontiac Firebird, blue with a black top. It got 8 miles to the gallon, I drove it from '99 to '02, and I got more attention from men -all kinds of men, from teenage black kids to old Asian dudes- in that thing than I ever have, before or since. It had a V8 and went like a rocket. I got pulled over all.the.time, but pretty often, the cop just wanted to chat about how much I paid for it, what year it was, and what the insurance was like. I'm glad I owned it in my early 20s and got the midlife crisis car out of my system.

Our first family car was a '98 Bonneville. Huge backseat, great mileage, and tough to kill.

I've never liked Grand Ams or Grand Prixs, and am pretty neutral on the Aztek, but other than that I am a fan. I'll miss you, Pontiac.
posted by Leta at 3:41 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aw, we had a 6000 LE back in the early '90s. 'Twas a fine vehicle, until my sister rolled it into a ditch.

"First he bought a '57 Biscayne
He put it in the ditch
He drunk up all the rest
That son of a bitch..."


I knew someone who had a 6000-LE: A terribly defective vehicle. I cracked up when buddy destroyed his friend's SUX-6000 in the movie RoboCop.

Now, my dad's late-60's wide-track Parisienne was a helluva car. Like, Big.
posted by ovvl at 4:16 PM on November 1, 2010


I've noticed this trend of people calling mid- to full-sized SUVs "crossovers." Honda Pilots and Toyota Highlanders aren't crossovers, people. I don't know if they're being marketed that way, but I'm sure the manufacturers are in no hurry to correct them. I suspect it's their way of making themselves feel better about driving a gas-guzzling, environment-killing tank.

Hold your righteous indignation a moment, folks. Let's get our facts straight.

Both the Pilot and Highlander are indeed "crossovers". They are categorized as such because they are based on midsize unibody structures like a car, and not body-on-frame construction, like a full-size truck-based SUV. The "crossover" designation has nothing to do with fuel efficiency ratings, and is only used to refer to the construction of the vehicle.

The Pilot is based on the Honda Global Midsize Platform, used for its relatives, the Odyssey Minivan, and the Accord sedan.

The Highlander is based on a similar midsize platform shared with the Lexus RX, and somewhat related to the Camry.

Both of them use the same 4- or 6-cylinder (depending on trim level) engines as both their minivan and sedan siblings.

They both get better than 22MPG highway, and even a bit more if you chose the Highlander Hybrid. Not particularly good fuel economy, to be sure, but these are not single-digit-MPG gas guzzlers like the Hummer.

However, I would agree that most people who drive them would be better served by their minivan relatives, and get somewhat better gas mileage, but not as much as you think. Their minivan platform-mates generally get around 25MPG.
posted by Fleebnork at 4:37 PM on November 1, 2010


crossover station wagon

Have there been other vehicles you chould slot into the crossover segment? Sure. I'm not saying that GM invented the concept, but developing a car-based product into the SUV space was ahead of the general trend of the market when everybody (including Toyota) was churning out ladder-frame SUVs.

Quite a few Cadillacs are just a Chevy with nice wood on the dash

In the current lineup only the Escalade (and possibly the SRX) could be described as such. The other vehicles have no Chevrolet platform partner.

At least VW isn't trying to sell a rebadged Gulf as an Audi, Porche and Bugatti

Save for Bugatti, they are.
Expect to see much more Porsche-VW platform sharing post-merger.

I think you can fit a Toyota Landcruiser in the trunk.

Funny you should say that- The current Land Cruiser is half a foot longer and weighs 2000 lbs (one ton!) more than the Equinox and gets 13/18 mpg to the Equinox's 22/32. The Land Cruiser is the classic, inefficient, gas-guzzling SUV.

I've noticed this trend of people calling mid- to full-sized SUVs "crossovers."

Crossover as car-based, soft-road, rather than truck-based, off-road capable SUVs.
posted by theclaw at 5:49 PM on November 1, 2010


I really wish I could seem to find some decent data/pics on the Aztek's HUD option. I have felt for a long time that HUDs would be a very good thing in the driving world.
posted by Samizdata at 6:29 PM on November 1, 2010


The other vehicles have no Chevrolet platform partner.

Not entirely true. IIRC. The new Camaro shares a lot of hardware with the Cadillac CTX, including the base Camaro's fairly impressive V6 that delivers over 300hp.

I should disclose here that I own a '67 Camaro. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 6:33 PM on November 1, 2010


One of the enduring mysteries of life is how huge Buick is in China, but there you go.

The Chinese imperial family drove Buicks, before the war and revolution, hence the sense that it is a prestigious car. And, actually, the new Buicks are great cars - the Lacrosse, Regal and Enclave - as is the Cadillac CTS, and as was the Pontiac G8 (too little, way too late). Ditto the Chevy Malibu, Cruze and Equinox, to say nothing of the engineering tour de force that is the Volt's hybrid system. American engineers were always capable of designing good cars, but then, because of high labour costs, the bean-counters would go to work stripping out content to make them affordable. Of course, there's a chicken-and-egg thing: if you make the vehicles less good, you can only ever compete on price, not desirability. But union rules that meant that automakers basically couldn't save any money by shutting factories meant they needed to keep building huge numbers of cars, just to keep the cash flowing.

I'm not sure why American quality has been so bad, though a unionized environment that sees management as the enemy, rather than the success of the company as an imperative for everyone, had a lot to do with it. (See: workers dropping empty Coke cans into car doors to create a constant rattle when they felt management was screwing them.) Now that the UAW has seen what happens to your membership when people don't like your products, there seems to be a new commitment to building quality products, though I imagine that ensuring quality in the supply chain, and not just final assembly, is going to matter a lot.
posted by Dasein at 6:45 PM on November 1, 2010


Loving your car is at odds with the continued existence of life on our planet.
posted by mistersquid at 7:13 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Loving your car is at odds with the continued existence of life on our planet.

Extreme hyperbole is at odds with people continuing to take environmentalists seriously, but whatever makes you happy.
posted by Dasein at 7:20 PM on November 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I like the Aztek as well, if only for parking my Honda Element next to them.
posted by Scoo at 7:26 PM on November 1, 2010


I'm not sure why American quality has been so bad

Because American cars of lower quality are cheaper than Japanese cars. Also, because GM and Ford for years put out really crappy cheap cars (like the Aveo) that were mainly for meeting CAFE standards.

Of the five top-rated nameplates in the JD Power reliability survey, three are American. Buick, Lincoln, and Mercury are not nameplates you see on small cars anymore (the smallest Mercury is the Milan mid-sized sedan). So Americans can make good cars, but it'll cost ya.
posted by dw at 7:32 PM on November 1, 2010


@zoogleplex Sure, there's shared components, but everybody does that. For example, VW uses the VR6 engine from the Golf to the Porsche Cayenne (which you can option out over $100,000 with the base VR6 engine.) When people talk about about badge engineering or platform prostitution or wood trim packages they are usually referring like the Cadillac Cimmaron and it's J-Body siblings (Chevrolet Cavalier, Pontiac Sun(bird/fire), etc.), or the indistinguishable H-Body or X-Body platforms from GM in the 80s/90s.
posted by theclaw at 7:32 PM on November 1, 2010


Apologies for the @.
posted by theclaw at 7:34 PM on November 1, 2010


My first car was not a Pontiac. My next car won't be either. I'm going from a 1994 Mazda Protege to a 2004 Toyota Echo hatchback to a Lotus Elise? (Toyota engine). Always found Pontiac the name and the cars to be simply horrible. They were cars that teenagers bought so they could go fast in a straight line at the expense of even decent handling or that old people bought because the cars didn't handle.
posted by juiceCake at 8:54 PM on November 1, 2010


SUV's were traditionally body on frame designs, similar to trucks.

Cute-utes were the original mini-SUV's, like the Rav4 and the CRV, distinguished mostly by size.

My opinion is the original Subaru Forrester would be the first true crossover design. A tall wagon, all wheel drive capability, not SUV height in the suspension. Built for traction and cargo volume.

I just remembered another Pontiac mutant in the birth of the crossover genre; wasn't the Pontiac Montana one of the few all wheel drive mini-vans?

The Chevy Aveo is made in Korea by Daewoo.

Dasein, the UAW has negotiated in partnership, conceding benefits, for 20+ years, with bean counters that couldn't do their job, according to the GM restructuring from bankruptcy. The guy the feds assigned to review GM said their financial controls were non-existent, due to management incompetence. More to a car company than just bolts, y'know.
posted by dglynn at 9:13 PM on November 1, 2010


I don't know if it mattered in terms of company-saving sales, but the modern Pontiac GTO showed just how lost Pontiac was.

For their premier, no, legendary marque, they imported a design from Holden in Australia - not a bad thing, but it showed that Pontiac couldn't be arsed to commit to their most famous car ever.

Then, because of differing safety regulations between Australia and the US, Pontiac had to move the fuel tank up into the trunk. This reduced the generous trunk to about half size - just enough room for two golf bags. Again, Pontiac couldn't commit to designing the car properly for the US market.

For the looks, compare the GTO with the Dodge Charger Daytona R/T. Only the Dodge screams muscle car.
posted by zippy at 9:26 PM on November 1, 2010


on the Daytona link, scroll down to this image
posted by zippy at 9:27 PM on November 1, 2010


Loving your car hundreds of millions of people driving their cars tens of thousands of miles per year each is at odds with the continued existence of life on our planet.

Fixed that for ya.

I put maybe 500 miles a year on my Camaro. It's possible to have and love a car without polluting like crazy. (Most of the rest of my 4000-5000 miles per year are on a motorcycle.)

I do agree that overall, the massive individual car culture has been a bad idea.

theclaw: no worries. And yes I agree about the 80s-90s platform sharing muddle. Blech.
posted by zoogleplex at 9:37 PM on November 1, 2010


The guy the feds assigned to review GM said their financial controls were non-existent, due to management incompetence.

Fair enough. I will read Steve Rattner's book.
posted by Dasein at 9:38 PM on November 1, 2010


Domestic autos remain a generation+ behind imports. Seventy years after building planes, ships, and vehicles that saved the world from a hell; we (domestic USA) have seemingly forgotten how to build autos... If Pontiac can not stay competitive with such known lessons in craftsmanship; then I can not be sad for the loss. Actually; it kinda falls into a suicidal category of loss. Sorry to see you go; but... .
posted by buzzman at 9:40 PM on November 1, 2010


Both the Pilot and Highlander are indeed "crossovers". They are categorized as such because they are based on midsize unibody structures like a car, and not body-on-frame construction, like a full-size truck-based SUV.

I stand corrected, I wasn't aware the term had such a broad definition. I had always assumed it referred to the more car-like varieties — Toyota Venzas or Nissan Muranos, for example. We recently spent a week with a Mitsubishi Endeavor. It's technically a crossover, but it had anything but car-like handling and fuel efficiency (supposed hallmarks of crossovers.)

The "crossover" designation has nothing to do with fuel efficiency ratings, and is only used to refer to the construction of the vehicle.

Any implication that crossovers are more fuel efficient was based on my mistaken assumption of what a crossover was. Generally anything big and heavy with a big engine is going to have poor fuel efficiency, no matter what the construction.
posted by howling fantods at 10:04 PM on November 1, 2010


For their premier, no, legendary marque, they imported a design from Holden in Australia - not a bad thing, but it showed that Pontiac couldn't be arsed to commit to their most famous car ever.

I'll agree the new Goat was a total disappointment, but where should GM be importing ideas for muscle cars from that are better than Holden? I wish they'd just import the line to the US wholesale. Put me down for a Ute. And thank them for the underpinnings to my new Camaro. If GM could find a single person capable of doing interior design in something other than plastic, they might get back on track.
posted by yerfatma at 5:50 AM on November 2, 2010


bonehead writes "I'm glad to see the GM hucksters folding their tents. It means that this 50 year shell-game is finally ending."

It's not ending; the imports are doing the same thing. Toyota has Lexus and Scion, Nissan has Infiniti and Honda Acura.

dglynn writes "My opinion is the original Subaru Forrester would be the first true crossover design. A tall wagon, all wheel drive capability, not SUV height in the suspension. Built for traction and cargo volume."

You've pretty well described the Eagle Wagon. It's only middlin' tall but otherwise there is only10-15 years of automotive advances between the two cars.

dglynn writes "I just remembered another Pontiac mutant in the birth of the crossover genre; wasn't the Pontiac Montana one of the few all wheel drive mini-vans?"

Dodge, GMC and Ford all had AWD minivans. I don't know if Dodge was first with an AWD drive minivan however they had AWD in 1991.
posted by Mitheral at 3:31 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


You guys (by which I mean Pontiac USA) completely cocked up the Monaro -> GTO transfer. This was/is a good car, at least as a 'muscle car' in Australia. But crappy marketing and execution means it amounted to almost nothing.
posted by wilful at 10:06 PM on November 2, 2010


Mitheral, you are correct about the Eagle. I had forgotten about it. Although the ten years between the end of production for the Eagle and the beginning of the Forester might indicate that the Forester was at least re-introducing the concept.

Also, I may merely be remembering the marketing of the Montana emphasizing the all-wheel drive.
posted by dglynn at 10:04 AM on November 5, 2010


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