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Dudder: Excitement? What’s That?

The blood is on the walls, and the cuts have been publicized.

The blood is on the walls, and the cuts have been publicized. Wall Street is ambivalent to slightly positive about the changes, and critics everywhere are coming out of the woodwork with their prescription for what ails the domestic car makers. It’s to be expected. It also misses the mark.

One of the biggest problems facing the domestics these days is a lack of belief. Belief in themselves. Take Pontiac, for example. After a strong start, sales of the G6 have dropped such that GM has cancelled the second shift at its Orion Township plant—a shift that was added only last spring to meet expected demand. Is this a case of cutthroat competition diminishing demand, or a faulty roll-out that saw the G6 Coupe enter the market well after the sedan and with the convertible just coming into view, or buyer resistance as they try to fathom GM’s various pricing schemes? It’s all of that, but the problem goes much deeper.

Anyone watching Pontiac’s television commercials would have a tough time telling that this is GM’s excitement division. Sure, the black background and “firefly” graphics impart a certain backstreet feel, and the soundtrack is in keeping with the message. However, the whole is much less than the sum of its parts in this case as the spots lack passion, direction, and conviction. Commercials for washing machines tend to be much more compelling.

The same is true for Pontiac. It’s as though the division is uncertain of who it is or what it stands for other than to constantly repeat the word “excitement” to itself and anyone who will listen. But what does that mean? Fast cars? Cars and trucks that handle well? Vehicles that burst into flame? (Trust me that can be very exciting.) It’s not clear what they mean over at Pontiac. Granted, the division is saddled with a hodgepodge of vehicles one would not—in all cases—highlight as examples of the chosen word. The Solstice fits, the Torrent doesn’t. The G6 is close, while the Grand Prix is so far past is sell-by date even AARP members think its claim to excitement is dubious. And the Montana? Heck, even the state is more exciting than the Pontiac minivan of the same name.

Perhaps help will arrive when Pontiac, GMC and Buick are coupled under a single roof, and each has unique vehicles more in line with each division’s brand values. One can only hope that the Sigma platform will spawn not only a new Camaro, but an honest-to-God GTO; a real Impala SS as well as a Grand Prix worthy of the name. Maybe we might get lucky and the Kappa platform under the Solstice will be used to produce some unique rear-drive vehicles consistent with the Pontiac brand. Then again, I could be hallucinating.

Whatever the case, GM’s marketing “geniuses” will still have to define the brand beyond repeating a single word. It will have to create a messaging strategy that clearly and consistently supports the brand, its aspirations, and allow the consumer to understand Pontiac in a manner not currently possible. That’s a tall order, and one that will take a great deal of commitment. Something that’s all too lacking in what passes for its brand message today. 

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