What some would consider one of the worst design gaffes of the decade is being put to rest. The Aztek, which has taken its fair share of ribbings during its five years of production, also has a built a group of loyal owners. I'm sure writers will do their "so long, good riddance" pieces for the SUV that failed GM's expectations, or may forget that the truck ever happened at all. I want to focus on the history and culture that this vehicle has spawned and those that consider the truck a success. Yes Virginia, there is an Aztek Fan Club.
The Aztek name was introduced to the world as yellow concept truck at the 1999 Detroit International Auto Show. Introduced as a LSV, Lifestyle Support Vehicle, the Aztek was to be the Swiss Army Knife of the auto world. The problem that dogged the concept, as quoted from an Edmunds.com piece in 1999 was that “its styling alone is enough to separate it from any hope of measurable sales”. But wasn’t this what Pontiac was aiming for? Form to follow function, and that form would separate those that love it verses those that hate it.
Pontiac had plans to build the truck once the concept hit the shows, and the production model became a poster-child in the press for everything that was wrong with GM at the time. The truck was based of the GM minivan platform that underpinned the Pontiac Montana and then went through numerous consumer clinics where participants are more concerned about getting their $20 check than shaping the future of automobiles. When the production vehicle appeared for sale in the summer of 2000, many auto critics were none too kind.
Most Versatile Vehicle on the Planet
Pontiac’s ad campaign touted the Aztek as the “most versatile vehicle on the planet” and to speak to those that own an Aztek, the slogan fits perfectly. Did you know that the Aztek took home the JD Power and Associates “APEAL” award in 2001? The APEAL study rates how happy the owners are with their purchase and how thoughtful an automotive design is. The Aztek rated high for powertrain, sound system and interior comfort features. This truck rewarded those that were taken in by its quirky, non-conformist look.
Kiss my Aztek
After talking to a few of the members of the Aztek Fan Club there are two things I can discern; their Aztek truly is a hard working member of their family and they are tired of the press constantly beating up on a vehicle that non-owners don’t seem to understand. When owners were asked to sum up their attractions and likes/dislikes to the SRV (Sport Recreational Vehicle), it didn’t take long until I had a list of all the Aztek’s merits. The trucks looks brought a lot of people together. “I love the way the Aztek looks the same way so many think its ugly,” said AFC member Kane which was a common theme.
Media killed the Pontiac truck
Automotive style is subjective, we all know that, but the foaming hate that shot out from all directions at the Aztek equaled commercial failure. Many members blame the media for the mediocre sales. AFC member Ande2004 it summed up with this:
My personal take on the demise of the Aztek wasn’t its outward appearance as much as it was the bad press it received when it was launched. The Aztek was born to be different, that was its sole purpose.
To those that responded, style was one of the reasons an Aztek was purchased. “Yeah I’m different, so what’s it to you?”
When you really take a look at the auto landscape post-Aztek, the Elements and xBs littering the landscape, was the Aztek that off the mark? Did the plastic pieces and strange styling of the Element cause it to get its ass handed to it by the media? No, of course not… I guess it has the H of invulnerability brazened on its hood.
Functionality versus price
Above all, most Aztek owners have fallen in love with the truck’s versatility. It has the capability of a larger SUV, but the ride and feel of a car. The interior was very well thought out, including a removable center console that is actually a cooler. Cup holders, cargo trays, power outlets, rear mounted stereo controls – everything to make and owner happy and at a discount. Aztek owners say that the price was on par if not lower than other SUVs that gave them only a portion of what the Pontiac offers, and none of the personality.
When asked if any Aztek owners would bite for the 2006 Pontiac Torrent, the unofficial Aztek replacement, some said because of the great experience they had with their current Pontiac, they would, but concede that they would lose the uniqueness of the Aztek.
Pitching a family
The Aztek Fan Club is not just a forum on the web, but a complete family. Many members go to meets, rallies and camping trips with their ‘Tek brethren. Along with many of the active lifestyle accessories that are available for the Aztek is the tent option. Using the rear hatch as part of the roof, this SRV can turn into a camper in no time flat. “It is like having an RV without the RV payments” lauded member TheHipAztek.
You wouldn’t understand
I wanted my farewell piece to the “no respect” Aztek to be more from the owners than from the general public. We already read about what people “thought” was wrong with it, but it was not really PC to say what was right. All told, as of October of 2004, a total of 111,837 ‘Teks have been sold since summer of 2000, a far cry of the original 60,000 units a year Pontiac initially predicted. But to some this truck was more than numbers and bad press. Ask anyone at the Aztek Fan Club about the truck they love and they won’t care how many people bought them, just that they have and that purchase has brought them together.