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DeLorenzo's rant of the week at www.autoextremist.com

Pontiac’s resurrection gets lost in translation.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. I’ve written about Pontiac extensively over the years in this column, partly because I actually have a passion for the brand that goes way back to the late 50s (Bunkie Knudsen use to send the latest and greatest Pontiac to our house for my mom to drive every summer, usually a Bright Red Bonneville convertible with the hottest engine they could stuff in it at the time), and partly because I had the privilege to work on Pontiac advertising during one of the division’s last real heydays (in the early 80s).

Believe it or not, Pontiac used to actually mean something in the American car market, but that was so long ago that I feel it’s my duty to remind people about it now and again. At its high point, Pontiac was pressing Ford division in sales and enjoying the No. 3 position in the U.S. market. And Pontiac did it by selling hot cars with an unmistakable rebel attitude, creating a brand presence that was unique in the marketplace.

Pontiac not only marched to a different drummer within GM, they reveled in tweaking the corporate “suits” at every opportunity, causing major blowups and out-and-out war with GM’s fair-haired division – Chevrolet – on more than one occasion. And whenever Chevrolet execs would whine about yet another incident of egregious behavior by its brother division some 25 miles north of the city, executive honchos on the famed 14th Floor of the GM building at the time would only weakly admonish Pontiac, because after looking at the latest monthly sales figures they would do a collective shrug of the shoulders and then let Pontiac execs go back to doing exactly what they were doing with a wink and a nod. The Pontiac formula flat worked, and even the GM suits were smart enough not to mess it up.

The origins of this “hands-off, look-the-other-way" policy that the GM Brass employed with Pontiac defined the very essence of the brand, and it’s a story that bears repeating.

By 1963, GM was still in the throes (sort of) of adhering to the 1957 agreement with the Automobile Manufacturers Association to not promote speed and horsepower in automobile advertising for safety reasons, and to not race their products. I say sort of because unbeknownst to the execs down at headquarters, Zora Arkus-Duntov was feverishly working away at his answer to the Shelby American Cobra – the magnificent Corvette Grand Sport – and at the same time GM “mystery” V8s were showing up in blistering fast NASCAR Chevys at Daytona. (Ford had already bailed on the agreement by the summer of 1962 in order to jump into its “Total Performance” marketing campaign with both feet.)

John Z. DeLorean, the Pontiac chief engineer who had risen to become the youngest General Manager in GM history at 39, wanted to jump start Pontiac in a big way, because he had ambitions to run GM one day, and time was a wastin’ as they say. Bill Collins, along with Russ Gee, two of Pontiac ’s engineering gurus at the time, responded to John Z’s challenge with one of the classic automotive “What if(s)?” of all time, as in, “What if we stuffed one of our 389 cu. in. engines in our ‘intermediate’ Tempest?”

Now technically, Pontiac couldn’t do it because of GM’s publicly stated adherence to the AMA ban. The marching orders given to the GM divisions from the 14th Floor were clear: They not only couldn't race, they couldn’t promote speed and horsepower in a model. Period. But in an example of the inspired genius that would propel Pontiac to great heights throughout the 60s, DeLorean and his brain trust decided to build this new performance car as an option to the 1964 Tempest - neatly avoiding the model question completely - and it would carry the designation “GTO” - borrowing a bit of magic from the Ferrari GTO at the time. Add in Jim Wangers' uncanny knack for marketing and promotion and the rest, as they say, is one rip-roaringly glorious chapter in American automotive history.

Pontiac thrived on its persona of being GM’s “pirate” division, always testing the boundaries and always doing things right up against the redline with cool cars and in-your-face marketing that no one else could touch. And American car-buying consumers flocked to the rebellious brand in droves. That’s why to this day a lot of enthusiasts have a soft spot for Pontiac, at least what Pontiac used to be anyway.

But we’re all painfully well aware of what happened to Pontiac since its glory days: 1. Bad marketing decisions due to a loss of interest (and money) from the corporation as GM propped-up every other division but Pontiac in its quest to keep its divisional balls in the air. 2. A proliferation of ugly-ass vehicles, none of which had the swagger, personality and performance that a Pontiac should have. And, 3. A total loss of the division’s focus internally, which led to a total loss of the division’s persona on the street, as the people in charge buried the brand’s essence in a dizzying array of smoke and mirrors, damn near killing Pontiac once and for all.

So when GM embarked on a project to resurrect this once-glorious brand using its latest rear-wheel-drive architecture developed by its Holden division in Australia, I was encouraged.

(No, I haven’t changed my stance in that by trying to market eight distinct brands in North America GM is slowly but surely preventing itself from ever gaining an upward trajectory again in the American market, but as I’ve said many times before if you’re not going to give Pontiac its due - and by that I mean reaffirm the brand’s essence in no uncertain terms with worthy cars - then by all means put it out of its misery once and for all.)

By all accounts, the new G8 arriving at Pontiac dealers as you read this is very much true to the Pontiac that thrived in the 60s, despite its Aussie origins: Big, powerful and fast - with enough swagger and personality to boot – and with a price that doesn’t induce headaches. GM is, in effect, finally giving Pontiac its due with this car. And Pontiac is announcing an even hotter version - the 402HP G8 GXP - at the New York Auto Show this week (see below), which will hit showrooms by the end of the year.

But the glimmer of optimism that was starting to well up in me about Pontiac came crashing down when it was also announced that Pontiac would be offering a G8 sport truck in 2010, which drew a collective gasp of “WTF?” here at AE headquarters. A popular conveyance locally marketed by Holden, this El Camino-like vehicle should stay right where it belongs – in Australia – because there’s not a shred of logic to bringing the thing here and calling it a Pontiac, I don’t care what the performance numbers are.

Not to state the obvious, but there isn’t even a remote connection to faux El Caminos in Pontiac ’s storied history. Not even close. And on top of that, a 4,000-lb. sport truck is a niche vehicle that has no business being marketed here. I understand that Pontiac marketers are trying to zig in a zagging market, but wasn’t the lesson learned from the Chevy SSR example enough for GM? How about the Subaru BRAT? Do they really want to revisit why that didn’t work - and find out why it will even work less as a Pontiac? After all, once the couple of thousand or so (at best) El Camino nostalgia hunters ante up for a G8 with two seats and a 71-inch cargo bed, then what?

They’ll be piling up like so much cord wood on dealer lots all over the country, that's what.

To make matters worse, Pontiac marketers, in their quest to attract attention to this atrocity, are pulling out all the stops by offering consumers a chance to name this beast over the next month on a website. No, it’s not clever. And no, it’s not fun, either. It’s amateur-hour marketing at its lowest.

Let me remind Pontiac marketers of two great names that need no vetting on the Internet – GTO and Trans-Am. Why the Hell GM decided not to go ahead with basing either one of these vehicles off of the upcoming Camaro architecture (I’ve seen a design exploration for a Firebird Trans-Am that looks sensational) is completely beyond me. When you have names with that kind of residual brand equity gathering dust in this oppressively congested market, why wouldn’t you use them?

This move by GM – and I hope the idea is shelved long before it becomes an on-the-street reality – would finish off this once-proud division once and for all. The G8 sport truck (I can barely even type the words) would be the quintessential definition of the wrong vehicle, at the wrong time, from the wrong car company. As a matter of fact, it would retire the title from ever being used again, because there would be no other product misstep in recent automotive history that would even come close to this looming debacle, in my estimation. Not even the Aztek. Yeah, I know – that’s cold – but it’s the High-Octane Truth in this case.

The sad thing in all of this is that I believe the Pontiac brand can still thrive, even in this harsh new Green-dominated, $4.00+ per gallon automotive world we’re living in. But Pontiac doesn't have a glimmer of hope of resurrecting itself when bad product decisions are still being made on its behalf.

GM marketers either don’t get it, or they clearly only partly get it, which is even worse.

It’s times like these that try men’s souls - or something like that. Let’s hope this “thing” is a non-starter, because a Pontiac sport truck would be a flat-out disgrace if it ever sees the light of day.

Thanks for listening, see you next Wednesday.
 

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I agree 1000% with everything he said about Pontiac except for his opinion of the G8 SportTruck.
While it is not for everyone it is in the tradition of Pontiac to have a "rebel" type vehicle that no one else has.. and most importantly with great performance.
 

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The other nice thing about the sport truck, while I DO obejct to it being a Pontiac when it is so obviously a modern incarnation of the Chevrolet ElCamino, is that if it does not sell, they can pull the plug on it without much loss or worry. The fron end and interior is shared with the G8 sedan and the body is from the UTE, it's not like the SSR which was totally unique inside and out and only really shared it GMT360 platform, and lets not even talk about the expensive retractable roof.

He thinks that they are going to import tens of thousands of the things, I dont think that they will bring in more than 1000 to 2000 per year at best.
 

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Pontiac will lump the G8 Sport Truck sales in with the regular G8. In doing so it will add to the sales volume of the G8. I doubt Pontiac or GM is going to have the G8 Sport Truck sell in high volumes. The engineering is all done for the Holden Ute so the few that are sold are profit for GM and volume for Pontiac.

I agree with AE a two door version is needed at Pontiac as soon as possible. My preference is G8 Tempest/Le Mans for the V6 and GTO for the V8.
 

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I totally agree. The Firebird and GTO MADE Pontiac. And don't give me that American BMW crap either. We all know that is a load of BS.
 

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well, if we had a Cobalt SS Turbo PONTIAC, a 2.4L "Base Model" G5 (instead of 2.2), a 2.4L G6 (HFV6 GT and DI3.6 or Turbo 3.6 as GXP G6) as well as G8 and Solstice and then move G6 to Alpha in 2012...topped off by a 2 door "G8" GTO offered only in V8 form with "GXP GTO or a Judge" being offered as up option V8

that'd be a lineup to be proud of as a Pontiac fan / supporter. G5/G6 either or would NEED to OPTIONALLY OFFER AWD on their highest performance vehicle to go compete not only in the sport compact market but the uber-tuner/muscle beater market currently dominated by Evo X/STI

IF you had that lineup (and its TOTALLY feasible) with a NEW styling direction that is LOOSELY based on heritage but totally evolutionary (more evolution than Camaro, wayyyy more than Challenger)...but some resemblence, and there you go...500,000+ pontiac sales.

CobaltSS

PS: If not GTO G8 then G8 "Firebird"

PS: why not just badge engineer the sport truck as a Chevy? Its adds more sales to them, it has el camino history (didn't GMC have one? Give it to them!)
 

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He's absolutely right.

However, I would argue the vehicles that damage Pontiac the most aren't necessarily niche products like the G8 ST. It's actually the cheap rebadges like the G5, Torrent, Vibe and abysmal cars like the G6. None of them have the styling, interior quality, individuality or actual performance to support Pontiac's mission.

Yes, the G8 is exciting but at the end of the day Pontiac will still be in the same position as it always has. One car and variants of it are not going to save it. GM does not have the resources or focus the brand deserves.

It will likely be the next GM brand that goes away.
 

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GMC did have a Sprint/Caballero from 1971-1987, plus GMC does have some perfomance/specialty truck heratige with the Syclone and Typhoon. How about selling the ST as modern day Syclone with a 400hp Turbocharged SIDI 3.6 V6? Ha, wishful thinking.
 

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As I have written in other threads about the sport truck, I agree. They WILL be piling up at Pontiac stores. What were they thinking?
 

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Wait a minute. Let me do a quick gravity check....

Another Pontiac "fan" that's stuck in 1965? Wow! There's a rare phenomenon!

Keep on trying to revive Pontiac's 1960s image... and you'll see Pontiac tank even further. Without a clear new direction (and no, reverse isn't a direction), Pontiac will completely fail. Outside of a handful of gearhead enthusiasts and GMI fanatics, nobody gives a s*** about Pontiac's past. It's dead. I wish Pontiac “fans” would quit trying to mimic Weekend At Bernie's. In the real world, dead bodies rot and stink. Nobody in the mainstream market wants the '64 GTO or '77 Trans-Am to return. Quit trying to dig up those corpses, even if they were great in their day.

Pontiac is beyond damaged. It has the same cachet in the market that Oldsmobile had while it was on life-support. Without a clear, concise, image — and an image that fits into today's market — Pontiac will join Olds, Nash, Plymouth and others in history's auto cemetery.
 

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As I have written in other threads about the sport truck, I agree. They WILL be piling up at Pontiac stores. What were they thinking?
Not if they only bring in a low number, like 10,000 or something. They'll sell them all, even if they ARE just to El Camino fans. He makes it sound like a Firebird doens't exist because the Sport Truck does... it's all fine and dandy that he saw a nice pretty drawing on the internet of a concept, but he surely must realise the MASSIVE investment that would be required to make a new Firebird, not to mention the undesirable competition against the soon to be released Camaro and Genesis coupe and Challenger. The Sport Truck is a relative freebie for North America. I can understand people not liking it or not thinking that it suits Pontiac, but I think that it's a better fit than he does. The Sport Truck will not kill Pontiac... there are lots of other things that will first!
 

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The Chevy SSR was gorgeous, but it was $43,000, 4700 pounds, 4 speed auto or 6 speed manual, built off a platform with poor crash test performance, and not usable as a work truck. That's 6 tons of style, reasonable straight line performance, awful fuel economy, no practicality, and a very high price.

The G8 truck will be dramatically lighter, more fuel efficient, faster in a straight line, safer in a crash, much faster around curves, more capable as a truck, and an estimated $15,000 cheaper.

All that said, I would have rather seen a new Chevy El Camino myself. But the G8 truck is better than the SSR in every possible conceivable way except for styling.
 

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Wait a minute. Let me do a quick gravity check....

Another Pontiac "fan" that's stuck in 1965? Wow! There's a rare phenomenon!

Keep on trying to revive Pontiac's 1960s image... and you'll see Pontiac tank even further. Without a clear new direction (and no, reverse isn't a direction), Pontiac will completely fail. Outside of a handful of gearhead enthusiasts and GMI fanatics, nobody gives a s*** about Pontiac's past. It's dead. I wish Pontiac “fans” would quit trying to mimic Weekend At Bernie's. In the real world, dead bodies rot and stink. Nobody in the mainstream market wants the '64 GTO or '77 Trans-Am to return. Quit trying to dig up those corpses, even if they were great in their day.

Pontiac is beyond damaged. It has the same cachet in the market that Oldsmobile had while it was on life-support. Without a clear, concise, image — and an image that fits into today's market — Pontiac will join Olds, Nash, Plymouth and others in history's auto cemetery.

I have to side with t-rex. History is great -- something to be proud of -- but this is a new century, whole new ball game. Pontiac has always been known for being innovative, maybe even controversial, but always different. It's only natural to always look back, but the Good Book tells us what that can do -- turn us into a pillar -- rock solid and unable to move forward. Bonneville -- Grand Prix -- GTO -- Firebird -- Trans Am -- Fiero -- and more were the talk of the town in their day, and I would love to bring back some of those great names like many of you do. As far as the G8, reports from many different sources who usually hate GM and Pontiac specifically just love this car! So let's throw 'em a curve -- bring on the Sport Truck! The worst it could do is get everyone talking, bring the curious (hopefully with a full checkbook) into the showrooms. What would make more sense is the Sport Wagon, and I'm personally casting my vote for that one right here! I was brought home from the hospital in a 195? Pontiac so they're naturally in my blood. So let's move forward with some great products and see what happens. Either that or we will be laying Pontiac to rest next to Oldsmobile. Here's one thing we would all hate to see:
R.I.P. PONTIAC
1926-201_
 

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If Pontiac is about being a rebel than how does the Sprot Truck not fit the brand?
glad someone else thinks like i do.

i dont get whats so wrong? its nothing like the ssr. its notlike theyre gonna import all of them. import enough to cover the dealerships, and then send them over as theyre ordered. its not that difficult. if this thing sells low, who cares? profit is what matters. since it was so cheap to develop, itll make profits rather quickly and easily.

this is pontiac. performance. this is a muscle car that can haul your quads/dirtbacks to the trail/track. pontiac is slowly coming around. g5 needs to go RWD/AWD and the g6 needs rwd. and then a coupe and/or wagon and youre done.
 

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P.S. And being in middle Tennessee where many Country Music artists live, I know there's gonna be a lot of G8 ST's cruisin' down the road! Let's see...George Jones, Alan Jackson, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Wynonna, and probably NASCAR's Darrell Waltrip and Sterling Marlin!
:drive:
 

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If Pontiac is about being a rebel than how does the Sprot Truck not fit the brand?
I agree with you, but we can also argue that this car fits in much better at Chevrolet with a simple lion-to-bowtie badge swap.

In fact with Pontiac in the shape it's in every Holden should be going to Chevrolet instead because I doubt Pontiac will still be around by the end of the next decade.

It's a macho, rebel, balls-out car that I love and that fits Pontiac's image. Whether the public will agree or disagree and find it appealing is what we will see when it goes on sale.

I already know the Holden hood, front fascia and Chevy badge swaps are going to be popular with it.
 

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Wait a minute. Let me do a quick gravity check....

Another Pontiac "fan" that's stuck in 1965? Wow! There's a rare phenomenon!

Keep on trying to revive Pontiac's 1960s image... and you'll see Pontiac tank even further. Without a clear new direction (and no, reverse isn't a direction), Pontiac will completely fail. Outside of a handful of gearhead enthusiasts and GMI fanatics, nobody gives a s*** about Pontiac's past. It's dead. I wish Pontiac “fans” would quit trying to mimic Weekend At Bernie's. In the real world, dead bodies rot and stink. Nobody in the mainstream market wants the '64 GTO or '77 Trans-Am to return. Quit trying to dig up those corpses, even if they were great in their day.

Pontiac is beyond damaged. It has the same cachet in the market that Oldsmobile had while it was on life-support. Without a clear, concise, image — and an image that fits into today's market — Pontiac will join Olds, Nash, Plymouth and others in history's auto cemetery.
As usual T-Rex, I agree and disagree with many of your points. First off, the reason Pontiac fans are stuck in the 60s is because that was the last time Pontiac truly had a lineup worth being a fan of. To revive Pontiac's 60s models would be absolutely foolish, but the general idea of Pontiac being fast, rebellious and cool is completely feasible. The G8 and Solstice are great steps toward this, but the G5, G6, and Torrent are antithetical to the image Pontiac should be trying to portray. The next Vibe is actually an attractive and fairly sporty vehicle, but is not quite what Pontiac needs (plus it's a Toyota). Also, it would not hurt Pontiac at all to have 1 or 2 retro models, such as a Camaro based Firebird/Trans Am or the RIA GTO. The original GTO, especially, is very well remembered by those who are currently hitting their mid-life crisis's:D. But in all seriousness, a powerful sports car such as this with the tough front grill would sell among young people. They're not all goths or yuppies, many are speed freaks just like every generation before them. That being said, the rest of the Pontiac models will need to move forward into the future, but remain cool, rebellious, fast, and affordable.

Also, if Pontiac is to take a clear new direction, I would ask you what direction you would send it in that would still be worth keeping around with Chevrolet, Saturn, and Saab filling all other possible niches for Pontiac other than sports cars. Remember, styling and where the drive wheels are placed is important to a brands direction, but the idea that the name puts in your mind is the most crucial element of a brand.


Chevrolet=Mainstream cars and trucks, as well as the top of the line Corvette and several models, such as the Camaro and HHR, that bring the past into the future. This is really three different ideas clumped into one showroom.

Saturn=Euro sensibility. They're comfortable, fuel efficient, and family friendly, portraying an image that could hardly be misconstrued as redneck, which is an unfortunate word sometimes applied to Chevy. The no hassle dealership policy is also absolutely important to the future of the brand, as is experimenting in vehicles that have not yet been brought to the US.

GMC=Work trucks and luxurious trucks and SUVs. Once again, two ideas, the second being represented by the Denali line.

Hummer=Rough and tumble SUVs, take anywhere. Never show them on the road in an advertisement, I guarantee you'll take less flack for having them. Have luxury options, but bring the whole thing downmarket to Jeep level. And make sure people know you don't support them being daily drivers, especially the H2.

Saab=Quirky, sporty Euro cars with luxury touches, but less pricy than Buick and Caddy. The car of the young professional.

Buick=Quiet, conservative vehicles that are elegant but not terribly bold. Have one or two bold models in the showroom if you like, but keep it sleek and sexy like the Enclave.

Cadillac=Loud styling, bold, edgy. When there's a Cadillac around, you know it.

Where does this leave Pontiac?

P.S. I think Oldsmobile should return in the future, once all the other brands are stable, with hybrid base models, PHEV mid-level, and fully hydrogen up-level as the brand that's going to save the environment while still being cool, but that's just my thing, not something I would currently propose to GM.
 

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Sorry T-rex. Thats just not true.

If Cadillac can be brought back from the brink of blue haired extinction, PONTIAC CAN SURVIVE AND FLORISH!

If Buick can build a crossover that is selling like crazy and getting people to trade in many different types of brands and vehicles...PONTIAC CAN TOO!

Pontiac, despite the black eyed history since 2002 and the GTO mistake of a name (great vehicle objectively), its still in a MUCH stronger position to revive than either Cadillac or Buick (currently) has.

Pontiac should have an Cobalt SS/SRT4/MS3/GTI competitor, an Evo/STI competitor, a Camaro/Challenger/ChargerSRT/Mustang competitor, a Mazda6/Legacy GT/Altima (and MS6/SE-R) competitor (WITH A MANUAL AND Suspension/ENGINE THAT PUTS OUT HIGH PERFORMANCE!)/or do a RWD bargain 3/BLS type vehicle as well as the G8 and Solstice. You could even argue for a Pontiac as a Honda Fit type vehicle (essentially a Vibe thats smaller, more powerful/handles better, looks more car-like, and CHEAPER!!!! As in starts at 12k and GOES to 16-17k where Vibe starts at 16k).

If GM did that, I'd buy one. I will NOT buy a G5, Vibe, G6 from them not in a million years though. I'd rather just have a Cobalt, HHR, or 08 Malibu all vastly superior vehicles...and thats a shame. I USED to be a huge pontiac supporter and then when Trans Am died, GTO didn't have the looks, and Chevy got an "SS" compact in form of a Cobalt and Pontiac had no sunfire replacement (which is embarrassing dealers had to complain for a BLATANT! rebadge) with the LSJ ... I said enough is enough. Screw pontiac, I can get a cheaper, nicely styled, and better/more powerful product from Chevrolet and any 'racer/driving enthusiast' stuff that Pontiac had...the SS lineup can offer!:D G6 coupe I will say is sharp, my friend has one in Electric? Blue and the 3900/6speed was a good start, but a GXP s/3900 needed to happen or a HFV6 Turbo w/ a six speed MANUAL optional needed to happen...when it didn't, when AURA superiorly outclassed G6, when ASTRA went to saturn and not pontiac, when Cobalt SS-S/C (and now TURBO) were created and NO BLATANT REBADGE Pontiac styled competitor came to be.........

I lost faith in that brand. Solstice is great and G8 is very encouraging but one is a niche segment vehicle thats at best a second or third car and G8 starts at what, 27k? and is full size sedan. You must have superior core products and thats the one thing that Pontiac lacks...and I won't support them until they fix those core products IE: compact, midsize, and a sports car....

They're not as bad off as everyone makes them seem, they still have 370,000 sales/year and retail sales actually increased this past year so there is hope. Lets just hope that 'what should have been' in terms of G5, G6, Aveo-type car, GTO/Firebird type car...comes to fruition in this next product cycle!

Regards,

CobaltSS
 
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