A lot of blood was shed during the American car industry’s heyday in the 1950’s and 60’s. Not in the literal sense, of course, but rather in terms of the sheer number of brands that struggled for a piece of the auto sales pie – a pie that had been growing exponentially since the end of the Second World War. Obviously, not everyone who put up a shingle and started selling automobiles could be successful, but even companies with a very long history in the transportation sector such as Studebaker and Packard ended up closing their doors due to the fierce level of competition. A few independents would bravely struggle on but by the early 70’s, it was clear that the Big Three – Ford, General Motors and Chrysler – were going to be ruling the domestic scene from there on out.
The current recession has brought a thick curtain of gloom and doom crashing down upon automakers the world over. A new round of blood is about to be spilled as companies scrambled to make it through the uncertainty of the next few years. General Motors has been particularly hard hit, and in a cost-cutting measure the company has announced that they are cutting 3 brands completely and reducing once proud Pontiac to a mere two models past the year 2012.
Personally, although I am saddened by the loss of jobs associated with the shuttering of Saab, Saturn and Hummer, I have no real emotional connection to those nameplates. Pontiac, on the other hand, touches a chord. I learned to drive on a 1993 Pontiac Trans Sport. That’s right – a hulking, anteater-like minivan with a scarily high center of gravity and no power to speak of. At the tender age of 16, this vehicle provided many hours of fun cruising up and down the boulevards of my hometown, carrying far more teenage passengers than it was ever rated for and generally participating in mischief that saw it called to perform above the call of duty. Sure, it bore more than a passing resemblance to a DustBuster, and yes it was teal green, but it was all we had and it gave us a taste of freedom previously unknown to us in our rural environs.
Of course, Pontiac means far more than minivans to most people – myself included. I came of age at the beginning of the final, sad chapter in the company’s existence that saw the Firebird and Trans Am plants in my home province of Quebec mothballed and a preponderance of body cladding take over a lineup that was locked in step with Chevrolet. When I think of Pontiac, I picture not only the worn out van of my youth, but also Smokey and the Bandit and the car that kicked off the 60’s muscle car explosion, the 1964 GTO. Somehow, the performance flair that had once defined the brand became severely diluted over the ensuing decades until only a shell of an identity was left for buyers to latch onto.
The good news is that the vehicles that will continue on wearing the Pontiac badge are the G8 and the Solstice – two exciting and attractive hot rods that feature the availability of real honest-to-goodness driving excitement. Hopefully, General Motors will be able to build enough separation between Chevrolet and Pontiac so that the latter can once again define itself on it’s own terms. This means no more minivans – and sentimentality aside, you won’t hear me complain about that.