The Pontiac Astre was a badge-engineered version of the Chevrolet Vega. We should be able to stop there, but we want to make sure you get your click's worth. The Vega and Astre were actually revolutionary for the time, with an aluminum engine and near perfect front/rear weight distribution. It was also a modular design that required 40% fewer parts to build. GM also designed and engineered the compact vehicle in less than 24 months, which was unheard of at the time. Unfortunately, the things that made the Vega and Astre special also made them a reliability nightmare. The Astre also rusted worse than just about any vehicle ever made. Just think about it: can you remember the last time you saw one?
When the gas crisis took center stage in the 1970s, customers demanded more fuel efficient vehicles. GM's answer to the call for efficiency was the South American-sourced Chevrolet Chevette. It had a 1.4-liter, iron block four banger capable of 53 horsepower and the buyer's choice of a four speed manual or three speed automatic transmission. It was ugly, rusted overnight, and didn't exactly set new standards for reliability. And if that wasn't bad enough, GM glued an arrowhead to the front end to create the T1000 for its "performance" division. Badge engineering at its worst.
The Pontiac Phoenix was another positively wretched example of badge engineering. When GM's X-body cars came out, the new compacts held so much promise that the Bowtie-branded Citation model was the 1980 Motor Trend Car of the Year. According to contemporary literature, the cars were 800 pounds lighter than other compacts of the day, and their 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines were very efficient. The Phoenix was a near clone of the Citation, Buick Skylark, and Oldsmobile Omega in everything but sheetmetal, especially when it came to poor reliability and general unsightliness. When Pontiac replaced the Phoenix with the 1985 Grand Am, the world became a better place.
The second generation Sunbird was one of many badge engineered versions of the Chevrolet Cavalier. It could be had as a coupe, convertible, sedan, hatchback, and wagon, and you could even get a turbocharged Sunbird GT. The blown GT packed 165 ponies in its most powerful form; a considerable feat for the time. That sounds cool, but the turbocharged model was very loud and the forced-induction was known to have durability issues
The Pontiac Sunfire is what happens when good intentions don't result in good product. The Sunbird replacement came as a coupe, sedan, and convertible, and although the Sunfire was structurally identical to the Chevy Cavalier, it was no badge engineering job. It appears that the first generation Sunfire was made to look like a Mini-Me version of the Trans Am, but it's safe to say that Pontiac designers didn't quite pull off the look. The refreshed Sunfire arguably looked quite a bit worse than the original, too, as the front end was for some reason given Aztek cues. Needless to say, GM was already losing compact market share to the Japanese, and the Sunfire and its ghastly interior did little to stem the tide.
The LeMans name used to mean something. The Sixties-era LeMans was a genuine muscle car, sharing its underpinnings with the iconic GTO. In 1986, GM did the unthinkable and brought back the LeMans as a rebadged Daewoo. It was equally ugly with two or four doors, and it was about as popular as planter's warts. The one good thing that came out of the LeMans was that it represented a truly global vehicle, with a European Opel platform built by South Koreans and sold all over the world. The bad news is that the LeMans was so bad that it likely made GM think twice about globalization.
The G3 is pretty much the LeMans for the 21st century. It's a Korean-engineered vehicle built in Mexico and sold in the US. It's still fuel efficient, and, more importantly, it's still not in tune with Pontiac's performance brand messaging. Oh, and it's also a total badge engineering job on an uncompetitive car (the Chevy Aveo5), and GM reportedly already has a two-year backlog of the little stinkers.
The Pontiac Montana is a badge engineered version of the Chevy Venture (see a pattern here?) The Montana was a me-too minivan that never competed with the Dodge Caravan in any way. It also had ridiculous plastic side panel moldings to give the Montana a quasi-SUV look. It should come as no surprise that the Montana was discontinued due to slow sales.
There have been plenty of automotive gaffes over the past 100 or so years, but few carry quite the punchline of the Pontiac Aztek. When late night comics got tired of ripping on the president, they turned to the Aztek. To some, at least, the Aztek concept looked good enough, but the production model that resulted didn't win many friends. Plastic side moldings, a bizarre front grille, and an ungainly greenhouse told everyone from miles around that you were driving an Aztek. The Aztek was so bad that GM tweaked the design after a single model year and forced much of its management to drive around in unsold examples as penance. Not that it helped.
Pontiac G6 GXP
The Pontiac G6 has evolved into a borderline competent midsize offering that can be had as a sedan, coupe, or convertible. GM worked hard to re-establish Pontiac as the "Driving Excitement" brand, though, so a performance variant was a no-brainer. Enter the G6 GXP, a reasonably quick offering that is actually kind of fun to drive. There is a problem, though. It's an aesthetic train wreck. From the garish snow shovel rear wing to the horrifying man eater expression on the front end, the G6 GXP is the design effort that should have never made it past the clay model stage.