In the 1980s, executives at General Motors began a company-wide crusade to develop each and every vehicle with an eye toward focus group research, that area of borrowed corporate brainpower with a tendency to achieve spectacularly mediocre results. Dozens of products from the GM system appeared at auto shows stamped with focus group approval, only to disappear from sight forever.
The 1989 Pontiac Stinger is just such a vehicle, albeit one that seemed to take a hard right for the beach. Designed in the same period that brought us amazing technological advances like the Super Soaker water gun, Zinka nose lotion and Shadoe Stevens' hair, the Stinger is a no-holds-barred I-Love-The-80s time capsule.
Like a lot of concept cars then and now, designers attempted to build a car that could transform from business to leisure in a flash. Nearly everything on the Stinger can be removed and used at Kirk Cameron's beach party, including the removable seat inserts that act as lounge chairs, pop-and-remove top, and door inserts that can be removed for use as a cooler or storage box. As the video below shows, the Stinger would not be accused of cupholder discrimination. There's a place for everything.
Jim Mateja, writing in the Chicago Tribune, summed up the Stinger's appreciation for cubby holes: "If the Pontiac Stinger had a commode, it could be called a mobile home."
Ed Benson, director of Market and Product Planning for Pontiac in 1989, was starting to describe today's crossover market when he riffed on the Stinger some 20 years ago.
"We looked at the marketplace and the increased interaction between small sporty vehicles; fun-to-drive, outdoor vehicles; utility kinds of cars," said Benson. "There is an emerging interest in the young group (primarily 35 and under) for special sport vehicles that fully express their unique lifestyles."
The unfortunate part is that GM had the right research in hand, it just chose the wrong way to execute it. The core idea of what you see here -- a small utility vehicle with an eye toward interior functionality -- is quite common today among cars like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Honda Element, Chevy Equinox, Subaru Forester, Kia Soul and others.
As novel as the Stinger is, Pontiac never got the chance to develop its own products in the utility segment. Years later when GM started to attack the segment, its brand was already sliding. Even the Vibe, arguably Pontiac's best all-around vehicle of the last 20 years and in some ways the spiritual heir to the Stinger, couldn't save the GM division from falling into the dustbin.