17 March 2007
On Second Thought- The Pontiac G8
On paper, the G8 looks like a winner. Powerful V6 and V8 engines. Six speed automatics across the board, row your own options for those who want them, even in top trim. An interior that looks upscale and purpose driven. Even the exterior looks okay, minus the ridiculous hood scoops.
But on second thought, I think this car is a missed opportunity.
Quick, name the Pontiac that has singlehandedly kept Pontiac on the map.
The G6? (snicker)
The Torrent? (guffaw)
The G5? (outright laughter)
A competent vehicle in almost every respect, the Solstice has nevertheless succeeded almost entirely because it looks so damned cool. Modern, futuristic, sporty and distinct. It even keeps a lot of ties to the recent past with its design cues, and yet still moves the Pontiac 'look' forward.
So this brings me back to the G8.
The G8 isn't a home run because it doesn't build on the goodwill of the Solstice. At best it can be called Euro-sleek. At worst it can be called bland and derivative. In the middle, most will look at it and think it has the front end of a BMW and the ass of a Nissan but with none of the flair of either of them... but with some of the gaudy excess of recent Pontiac past (the hood scoops again). To be even more harsh, the design is almost entirely lacking any sort of originality- if any other maker released such an obvious BMW knockoff, they'd be lambasted for being unoriginaI- instead some people are HAPPY that it looks like a previous gen 3 Series. What gives? Where's the GM design we hear about all the time?
There are two trains of thought when it comes to resurrecting a division like Pontiac- the first involves incremental improvement and steady growth. A brand like Toyota has famously taken this approach with incredible sales results- their vehicles don't tend to be homeruns, but they are improved incrementally, and are always better than the generation before them. This builds customer faith, and makes people want to come back for more. The second involves making a splash and impressing your customer base, both current and target- see DCX and their approach with the 300C, Magnum, and Charger.
Curiously, if recent history is any indication, GM is schizophrenic with their approach towards Pontiac- on one hand you've got an in y our face design like the Solstice that has galvanized some support for Pontiac. On the other you've got the subdued styling of the G8, and to a lesser extent, stuff like the Torrent, which seems bland and derivative.
Why not just go for it? Is there a worry that Pontiac will lose sales? Because that shipped set sail a long time ago. Those G6 sales are at almost 50% fleet last I checked.
They've got a design that is a certified hit. This is not a case like the Aztek where they'd be jumping blind. Why not make the G8 and all future Pontiacs incorporate styling elements from the Solstice? I'm not saying that they should make a 4 door large sedan that is a Solstice- I'm saying there should be a visible tie-in with the halo car of the brand. No, not the way that Ford slathers on their Mach 3 inspired grille on everything- but a more mature approach that builds on a styling theme.
With the current design success of the Solstice, I think Pontiac is wasting a great opportunity to redefine themselves in the eyes of the American consumer, and this will only speed up their death spiral.