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By 2g1c2 girls 1 cup

RIP Pontiac

29th April 2009

General Motors announced this week that Pontiac will cease operations by next year.  This had been rumored for at least several days, and GM’s only comment was, “Contrary to media speculation, General Motors has not announced any changes to its long-term viability plan or to the future status of any of its brands…” This wasn’t a denial either.  With the announcement to kill Pontiac, it sure seems that the cynics who said GM now stands for “Government Motors” were right.  GM was under intense pressure from the feds to make drastic changes (cut more brands, cut dealerships, etc.), as the government needed to be able to show the public that they were playing hardball with GM, that they were doing everything they could to protect the taxpayers’ investment in GM.  In Washington, this means you need a headline, not necessarily a plan that will work.

Susan Docherty, VP of Buick-Pontiac-GMC, made the following statement:

“Anyone who has been associated with the Pontiac brand knows that this was a difficult decision. Pontiac has had a rich and storied history, but unfortunately, despite the efforts of all concerned, the brand has been unprofitable over the past several years. We had hoped in our February 17 Viability Plan to convert Pontiac to a niche brand within the Buick-Pontiac-GMC channel.

However, the Viability Plan as submitted was not acceptable. GM was further challenged to take more significant restructuring actions which would allow the company to be viable even in these unprecedented market conditions and in any future cyclical market downturns. These restructuring actions require further sacrifice by all stakeholders: GM employees, suppliers, investors and dealers.

As part of these renewed restructuring efforts, we spent considerable time formulating Pontiac portfolio scenarios that would allow the brand to be sustainable and profitable long term. Unfortunately after careful evaluation, none of these scenarios proved viable.

Therefore, GM is announcing the phase out of the Pontiac brand by year end 2010. This action will allow General Motors to devote its limited capital and other resources to GM’s four core brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.”

GM’s plan for Pontiac from their February Viability Plan was to reduce the Pontiac product lineup and make Pontiac more of a niche brand.  This made perfect sense.  Pontiac was most successful when it was the “excitement” division within GM.  GTOs, Firebirds, Solstice and the G8 make sense for Pontiac; Trans Sports, Aztecs, Torrents and the G3 don’t.

Pontiac is no longer a stand-alone division, so it doesn’t need a full lineup of various types of vehicles to make the brand “viable.”  There are only 35 dealers in the US that sell only Pontiacs.  Pontiacs are now sold almost exclusively through Buick/Pontiac/GMC dealers.  This strategy made sense, as those 3 brands all have very different images and would have allowed all of the dealers to have a full line of cars and trucks without the General having to produce copy-cat cars to keep 3 sales channels viable.  Done properly, these 3 brands together would not overlap with Chevrolet or Cadillac either.

So Pontiac doesn’t have its own sales channel to support, doesn’t have its own engineering staff (that went away 25+ years ago) or its own manufacturing facilities (ditto).  It doesn’t even have its own management, as Susan Docherty is the VP of Buick-Pontiac-GMC.  Maybe I’m just being dense, but where is the benefit of killing off Pontiac? Pontiac is a brand that has had some trouble remembering its identity, but so have others.  It has a great history, and if properly nurtured as a niche brand, it could have not only survived, it could have thrived.

RIP Pontiac.  Some of us will miss you.

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GM has teamed up with Segway, the maker of the Segway PT, to introduce the PUMA (“Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility”).  The idea is a small, electric runabout that is easy to drive and park, and is easy on the environment as well.  It can travel up to 35 MPH (56 KPH) and for 35 miles (56km) on a charge.  While certainly an interesting engineering exercise, one has to question the practicality of such a “vehicle.”  At a top speed of only 35MPH, where is it even legal to drive?  There are not many details available, but the prototype in the video (see below) that GM released has no doors, lights, mirrors, bumpers or any other obvious safety equipment besides the seat belts.  Yes, seat belts.  The PUMA seats 2, though if they are not good friends before the ride, they will be after.  The prototype says “experimental” on it, so you have to assume that GM/Segway will address these issues before they (attempt) to sell it to the public.  But given that the PUMA looks like a science experiment that attempted to mate a phone booth, wheel chair and a skateboard, you have to assume their market is small.  Segway’s lack of any success in marketing the PT needs to be factored into the calculations as well.

You have to give credit to GM & Segway for trying to break the mold of transportation to find new markets.  But given GM’s well-publicized troubles, you’d think they would have a better place to spend their scarce resources.  GM says that they have been developing the PUMA with Segway for 18 months.  Is it coincidental that they choose to tell us about it now, when the loan officer-in-chief seems to be calling the shots at GM?  Is Fritz Henderson, GM’s new CEO, just sucking up to the would-be boss?  I fear that the PUMA is just the first (and most ridiculous) of many so-called green cars that GM (and Chrysler if they survive that long) will be forced to produce as a condition of their loans without any regard to what the customers actually want.  If we had any semblance of an energy policy, then maybe PUMA would make some sense.  With gas around $2, there is no hope for PUMA.


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We’ve all heard the commercial, but what does Zoom Zoom mean?  If you believe the hype, it means small, energetic, crisp handling, peppy accelerating vehicles that are fun to drive.

Having driven one for a few days now (through some twisty roads, and lots of highway), I just have to say: ZOOM ZOOM!

This week I was lucky enough to get a dark blue 2009 Mazda 5.  I can’t say that I was all that excited about it when I got to the Hertz counter, but I had my choice between a Fusion or a Mazda 5.  I told the fine gentleman that I didn’t care about vehicle size so long as I got something that wasn’t stripped – I prefer a loaded Focus to a stripped Crown Vic.  Call me crazy, but 10 hours of butt-time over 3 days calls for some comfort!

Based on my typical criteria (good acceleration, crisp turn-in, stable ride, and decent amenities), I’m declaring the 5 a winner right up front.  Believe it or not, I’d actually buy one.  Well, if it were American I would.  As it is, I’ll stick with mentioning to my Ford friends that they might want to take some cues from the 5 for upcoming vehicles.  For the record, styling is not one of them.  Frankly, I find the 5 to be about as bland as can be, but then again, if you are looking for a compact package that can hold 6 people comfortably (4-5 if you have luggage), then you can only ask just so much.

Where the vehicle really delivers is on the road.  The acceleration provided by the 2.3L, 153hp engine feels like considerably more.  I actually had guessed it made closer to 230-240hp before looking up the stats on the website.  And while the pedal is clearly front-loaded (as they all are these days), there is still some extra oomph available when the transmission provides a needed downshift and the engine spools up to higher rev’s (and hp) during high demand situations.

Interior fit and finish is as expected – the parts fit nicely, and the materials are high quality.

And in case anyone is curious, they have padded inserts where your arm rests on the door.  Apparently someone reads these posts – thanks Mazda guys!

All the little things are right as well:  the shifter is right where your hand falls when you take it off the steering wheel (you know, in case you are the type to engage the manual shift feature in your mom-mobile), the aux input and powerpoint are well located and covered with nice little flaps to conceal then when not in use, and the front center console is open topped for easy access and storage.

Cruise control and stereo controls?  Right where they should be: stereo on the left and cruise on the right.

Center stack?  Well laid out, with fairly intuitive controls for everything.

Turn signal?  Exactly where is should be – extend your left pinky and flip it up or down.  If your hands aren’t at 10 and 2, then it is your fault, not Mazda’s, cause the lever is right there if you hold the wheel correctly.  As a side benefit, the distance is just right to allow you to pull the lever without taking your wheels (or eyes) off the road if you want to “flash to pass”.

The only thing that is missing ergonomically are thumb rests on the wheel.  I know, this is a small gripe, but if you are going to get everything else correct, the thumb rests seem like a glaring oversight.  OK, and the wheel spokes are poorly positioned as well (given the lack of thumb-rests).

Overall, this is a solid entry in a competitive marketplace – if you are in the market for a small people-mover, you would be remiss if you did not drive this vehicle.

d-


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Cash for clunkers…the phrase is gaining prominence by the day. There are several proposals that fall under this heading, and while they differ in some significant ways, they all have the same goal and premise.  Trade in your old, gas-guzzler for a voucher or tax credit towards the purchase of a new, more fuel-efficient model. There are THREE basic points that differ between the proposals: amount of the voucher/tax credit, how old/guzzling the old car must be and where/by which company the new car was built.

Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH) has drafted legislation that would give buyers vouchers of $3000 to $5000 if they turn in cars that are eight years old or older and buy new cars that get at least 24 miles per gallon on the highway or trucks that get 27 mpg. The money could also be used for mass transit. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) bill, which provides incentives of $2500 to $4500, the “clunker” could get no more than 18 miles per gallon. The new car would have to exceed fuel-efficiency standards for its class by at least 25%. Feinstein’s places a price ceiling of the new vehicle at $45,000, while Sutton’s has a cap of $35,000.

Some argue over the amount of the voucher/credit. I have no opinion here. I would leave that up to some economist with elbow patches on their tweed jacket.  It just needs to be enough to have its intended effect – getting enough clunkers off the road to make a difference in emissions and spur the economy.

I think that specific numbers for the fuel economy part don’t make sense.  The new vehicle simply needs to be much more fuel-efficient than the clunker.  What if your present vehicle is a 1978 Chevy pickup that gets 11 MPG and you need to have a pickup for whatever reason. Wouldn’t a Chevy Silverado hybrid that gets 20 MPG in the city and 20 on the highway be a great choice and one that is worthy of the subsidy? I think Feinstein’s bill comes closer to my point here, but wouldn’t trading a 20 MPG car for a 35 MPG car still be a great idea?

The last point is the one that really gets peoples’ blood boiling.  To exclude or not to exclude – that is the question. Some proposals only include US-made vehicles; others include all points of origin. Say you want to include only “American” products. OK, but what does that mean? These days, that is a pretty ambiguous term. Should a Toyota Camry, made in Kentucky, be included? What about a Honda Accord made in Ohio? On the other hand, how about a Chevrolet Aveo, made in Korea? I think that the reason for this proposed legislation is to help spur the US economy. Therefore, all US-made cars and trucks should be eligible for the incentive. Another wrench in the works are cars like the Ford Fusion and Chevrolet HHR, both made in Mexico. Should these qualify? I think so, because Mexico is only their final assembly point. The design, engineering and all other related activities are in the US. So my final answer is that all brands if US-made or US brand if made in North America should be eligible for the incentive. Foreign brands will not like this, but let’s be honest here. These bills propose to clean up the environment a little while spurring the US ECONOMY. Vehicles designed, engineered and manufactured elsewhere quite simply do not spur the US economy. We should not be subsidizing the sale of those vehicles.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  Comments? Feel free to leave them. I might even respond.

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