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GMI Interviews: Dave Smidebush
by BigAls87Z28
www.gminsidenews.com

With Pontiac being the center of GM's auto show, and with Buick's increasing popularity in China, I was pleased to interview Mr David Smidebush, Product Director for Pontiac and Buick, about the present and future state of the two brands. We first talked about the Buick brand. Mr.Smidebush commented about the state of Buick in China and did confirm that Buick will merge its design language along with China as well as the next gen Lacrosse will be a world car for Buick. I had asked him about the Lucerne and how the dealers wanted a front wheel drive car as supposed to a rear wheel drive Park Ave, and I asked him how come we did not get what seems to be the better of the two, the Park Ave? He said that since the Holden WM Park Ave production cycle did not sync up with what Buick needed for a large sedan, that Buick went with the more traditional FWD lay out. He did also mentioned that in the future, if the production cycles are timed together, that Buick would look into placing the Lucerne on the WM or Long wheel base Zeta platform.

I then asked him about the Buick Enclave, the sure winner of the Buick line up. I also asked him about a possible smaller 5 passenger version, something that would take the Enclave’s design language to a smaller package. He talked about how the Enclave is doing very well against the Acura MDX, which seems to be who Buick has identified as its main competitor, and he said "That Buick could do a RDX fighter." I asked him if Buick can see an entry level car below Lacrosse to which they were still looking at it for North America. Clearly they need one in growing markets, but with Buick being a more niche brand, and Pontiac having two smaller cars, it does not seem logical. I also asked him if Riv hit production, would Buick like to keep with the front wheel drive mind set, or go rear wheel drive. He responded with that the car is set up to where it could be put on both, and that we would have to wait for the reaction of the concept across the world. A FWD model would be geared to be more of a smooth riding coupe where a RWD version would be geared around a bit more performance. It seems that if a RWD version would be made, that a G8 coupe would be a tough case. Buick seems very interested in people's reactions as they are taking this car global. Mr.Smidebush also said that the Invicta concept will take the Riv concept's look to the next level and that everyone at Buick awaits the response of fans and critics.





Over at Pontiac, we talked about the unveiling of the three new cars, the G8 GXP sport sedan, G8 ST sport truck, and the Solstice Coupe GXP. There was also the new G8 GT sedan and Vibe GT models to round out the new line up of Pontiac cars. We talked first about the Vibe GT model. As we know, the car shares its platform and power train from rival company, Toyota. I asked him about the possible use of GM power trains such as the Ecotec 2.2 VVT that out powers the Toyota 1.8 and 2.4 engines, while getting better gas mileage in cars like the Cobalt and G5. He said at this time, with the way contracts are set up with the NUMMI plant that the Vibe will continue to use Toyota parts and that will continue for the future. Mr.Smidebush was also excited that they brought back the GT and AWD models, two models that were removed from the last generation. Both of these are great additions to the lineup, and offer AWD abilities to make a compact crossover for Pontiac. The Vibe's new cartoonish design does not seem to fit with Pontiac's sleek and conservative approach, but will appeal to the younger crowds. I talked to Mr.Smidebush about how the Vibe and G5 share the compact slot, and he said that the two are very different cars, and will appeal to two different types of car buyers. I also asked him about the future of G5 and will it receive the 2.0 liter turbo engine that is in the HHR SS and Cobalt SS. He responded that there are no plans for the LNF to make its way into the G5 at this time, which needless to say is a downer for the Pontiac performance image. We moved to the G8 triplets, the flagship series of Pontiac.






Starting off with the G8 GT, in a daring red color, Mr.Smidebush commented that he is very happy to read the reviews of the G8 against it cars like the Charger RT and even a comparison with a BMW 550i. To up the score, Pontiac has turned the heat up on the G8 with another addition to the GXP line. Mr.Smidebush and I talked about its performance importance for Pontiac, to have such a performance sedan for what will probably be a relatively affordable price. He was very enthusiastic about the addition of the Tremec TR-6060 six speed manual transmission, something that the enthusiasts have been begging for since G8 showed its face on US shores. I asked him about the GXP's rather small visual enhancements when compared to its Holden brother from HSV. The GXP model gets a minor revision of its front, rear and side ground effects. Its major visual enhancement comes from new 19 inch wheels, and behind them are massive brakes. We then looked at the anticipated G8 Sport Truck. It carries the same equipment as the G8 GT sedan, only with less doors and a bigger trunk. I asked him, since we are getting GT trim only, will we see a 6 speed manual trans in this or will it feature the same drive train layout as the G8 GT sedan. At this present time, there are no plans to put a manual trans in the ST, but they will research it and look into any type of demand. Even with that, due to the fact that car will have such a low production number, it would be costly to offer that type of trans and have it certified for production. Bummer...I know. He knows too, trust me. We then walked over to the Solstice Coupe, and he was glowing with pride over the design of the new hard top. When asked about the G6 model, he did not confirm any type of revision or enhancement that will come any time soon. The G6 is in its third year, and still growing in sales numbers. With the full line of all three cars out now in full swing, the car is still a big seller for Pontiac. I guess we will have to wait for a second generation for a new G6. We talked about Pontiac in the future, and if Pontiac will move towards using rear wheel drive or front wheel drive? While he cannot comment about future product, he said that Pontiac is clearly interested in both areas, and that both areas will offer its benefits to the market. They will also be looking at ways to lessen its CAFE footprint with advanced power trains. He made no comment on hybrid systems, but with GM moving more eco-friendly cars, it would not surprise me that all brands within GM. Both Pontiac and Buick's future are still unclear as these new cars are only a small part to push the respective brands forward. We will have to wait what the future brings Buick in terms of the next gen Lacrosse, the Riviera, and possible vehicles like a 5 passenger SUV and a large sedan to replace the Lucerne. With Pontiac, its future seems a bit brighter if it can remain focused during the times of increased CAFE. I hope that Pontiac understands that performance does not have to mean tons of horsepower and gaudy body cladding, but a well balanced machine both performance and design. I thank Dave Smidebush for his time and thank you GMI for reading.


 

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Thank you very much for sharing your talk with him. Always interesting to hear from GM execs, and any hints of the future of Buick and Pontiac.
 

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Great interveiw, I just wanted to know a little more about the G6 and if it will be on the alfa platform or will it stay the same, the other thing is I think the comment about the 6speed manual in the ST is B/S just put it in the damm thing!:yup::yup::yup::yup:
 

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Thanks. Great interview...which is why GMI is the best website for GM fans.

I thought until about a year ago, that there was a Buick Theta expected. Now it's never mentioned.
 

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Great interview ....I was hoping as I read the article that some mention or news about the (Holden 60,G8 coupe/GTO, Firebird?) would have been discussed.

Pontiac needs a Hot RWD coupe to round out their line up and not 3-5 years from now.
 

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GM needs to practice a little more identity management. I can get an AWD Vibe, but if I move to the highest end car on the same Pontiac lot, I have to do without AWD? The Vibe comes as a wagon only, and I can get a truck bed on a G8. I can't get a G8 wagon though? I won't talk about the lack of Manual in the excitement division.

Can anyone tell I'd really love an AWD G8 Wagon?
 

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BigAls87Z28 said:
I also asked him if Riv hit production, would Buick like to keep with the front wheel drive mind set, or go rear wheel drive. He responded with that the car is set up to where it could be put on both, and that we would have to wait for the reaction of the concept across the world. A FWD model would be geared to be more of a smooth riding coupe where a RWD version would be geared around a bit more performance. It seems that if a RWD version would be made, that a G8 coupe would be a tough case.
The solution is actually very simple. The Buick coupe (Riviera, Invicta, whatever) should be a hardtop convertible only. The Pontiac coupe (GTO, Monaro, G7, etc.) should be a more traditional fastback. Historically, big coupes do not sell well in the US. However, luxury hardtop convertibles like the SC430 and SL, and even soft top luxury convertibles tend to have a sought after following. Performance coupes are the other exception to the rule.

It is really great that Pontiac is getting back in the RWD V8 game with the G8 and G8 ST-whatchamacallit, and a manual can even be had with the GXP. They have the RWD Solstice and new Solstice Targa too, which is another very Pontiac vehicle--it may lack the V8 or even a 6, but it has style and a manual trans. The Vibe redesign just proves how strong Pontiac's designers are (especially compared to the Matrix). The probable arrival of Alpha is what gives me hope for Pontiac's future.

That said, I found the article rather depressing. Sometimes I wonder if GM just doesn't get it. Pontiac is your performance brand, it should sell performance vehicles with style. If it's not a car, not RWD (or at least AWD only), if it doesn't have a manual option, if it's not sexy, it's not a Pontiac. It may be a fine Chevy, it may make a sleek Saturn, it could even set high performance FWD standards as a Saab, but it's not a Pontiac. Pontiac's defining trait, beyond performance is the look, and I think entrusting that to the conservative Australian market of Holden is a giant mistake. Their chassis are excellent and very proficiently done, especially for so little investment, but the design really doesn't match up with the outgoing Pontiac character. The G8 is a good design, an Aston Martin is a great one. I have no doubt that Pontiac could design to that level if they allowed themselves to. The fact that making the G8 available with a manual or if the LNF motor should be included in the G5 is even a question shows just how poorly GM understands Pontiac. I hope this is not a sign of things to come.

As for Buick, they are almost headed in the right direction. Enclave is a success, the Lucerne is actually very nice and a real bargain. While GM scrambles to kill the Northstar/Ultra V8 and RWD plans left and right (Impala, GTO/Monaro, Firebird/Trans Am, Sixteen, etc.) Buick is one brand that does NOT need those credentials to survive. A large flagship RWD Buick would be a great idea to set the tone for the brand, but midsize and compact models in FWD form would both help lower the CAFE numbers for GM and cut costs to instead spend on class leading interiors for each model. A Buick with 2 SUVs, 3 sedans, and one 5 seat hardtop convertible would make a perfect step just below Cadillac for those that want something a bit more elegant than the brash and edgy Art & Science models. I'm not sure I trust that to happen in China alone though. GM needs to work with all the best designs globally, not just hand off everything to China and hope for the best--in the same way that Pontiac should not be handed over to Australian design tastes without global input.

Pontiac should pack all the performance of Cadillacs minus most of the luxury (but still far more than Chevy) in a sexy wrapper. Conversely, Buick would maintain all the luxury but very little of the performance of Cadillac. The allure is that Cadillac would have the best of all brands in one.
 

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Nothing new was said that anyone on this board didn't already know.
Yeah, I agree. I can't believe people here thought this was a good article. It was a bunch of softball questions with B.S. answers; i.e. Pontiac is looking at both FWD and RWD. How insightful. Might as well say they're considering both leather seats and cloth seats. WOW!

Shouldn't you ask the product director of Buick and Pontiac for some clarity on what he sees as Pontiac's role or niche in future is. Or since they decided to combine Buick and Pontiacs dealership how this will make sense to consumers...

Could you press how the "Performance" division offers so few manual transmission?

Shouldn't the product guy think the G6 needs some updates to remain competetive instead of the "Its still growing in sales" Kool Aid.

Really I think this shows a complete lack of real ideas on how these brands will be differenciated and marketed. I think the article just shows GM really has no idea what they're doing with Pontiac other then for now Pontiac is Car...and the new Sport Truck...and Vibe thingy. Maybe they should "Rethink" that.

Just to end on a productive note, I think performance is a silly criteria or role for a divsion. Every manufacturer and almost all brands offer relatively hi performance vehicles these days and in the land of CAFE requirements planning a whole division on huge HP figures seems short sighted.

Pontiac needs to be the one division from GM aimed toward younger buyers with products that aim for Sexy, Modern, YOUNG and FUN without the Scion "I'm a silly Tuner guy into coffee can mufflers" feel. The better come up with something or Pontiac is the next Oldsmobile.
 

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This really kills me about the G6. Essentially all this car needs is a new center stack with the corporate radio and maybe some brushed aluminum. Then tweak maybe a few things. The exterior of the car is fine for another year or two. In terms of engine, give this car, the Aura and Malibu an optional 3.6 with DI for the fall. We all know the Nav is not coming.

Come on GM !!!!
 

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Just to end on a productive note, I think performance is a silly criteria or role for a divsion. Every manufacturer and almost all brands offer relatively hi performance vehicles these days and in the land of CAFE requirements planning a whole division on huge HP figures seems short sighted.

Pontiac needs to be the one division from GM aimed toward younger buyers with products that aim for Sexy, Modern, YOUNG and FUN without the Scion "I'm a silly Tuner guy into coffee can mufflers" feel. The better come up with something or Pontiac is the next Oldsmobile.
I agree with most of what you said, except I think you might be unfairly equating performance with a powerful engine. Performance can also mean light weight, nimble handling, and responsive and engaging controls like brakes, steering, and shifter. That is why a Solstice still makes a good Pontiac. I think this is the fun factor of a car you are talking about, and what we realistically can expect. There are other fun types of vehicles, but many of them belong in the Saturn stable if they are Scion-like, or at least in the Chevy lineup if they are more mainstream American. One could easily describe a Wrangler as fun, even though it isn't fast, powerful, nimble, quick, or sporty in the least, but that doesn't make it a Pontiac.

Otherwise though, seems we're mostly on the same page as far as wondering what GM is thinking with Pontiac and Buick.
 

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Nice interview. Two disappointing points though.

1) It would appear the G6 will carry on essentially unchanged. She needs at least an interior refresh to keep her up to speed with the Malibu and Aura. A does of more power would be nice too.

2) The G5 not getting the turbo 2.0 liter. This to me should be a no-brainer. I know a lot of you think Pontiac shouldn't even be selling this Cobalt clone, but since it is, it should at least get the muscle to back up Pontiac's performance image.
 

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Thanks, but I can't believe you didn't ask about the Coupe 60... did you? We should never be missing an opportunity to ask... pester every chance you get. ;)
 
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