Open Road

Why Pontiac should come back and how it can be relevant again

A road map to revival.

When I was a kid growing up in Metro Detroit, our family was always entwined in the General Motors empire. My dad and some of our relatives worked for GM in various capacities, and we had our fair share of Chevrolet, GMC, and even Buick products in our humble driveway. However, it was my Uncle Ed that always had a vehicle from the one GM brand that always appealed to me the most: Pontiac. Seeing him pull up in his Pontiac 6000 and later the '90s era Grand Prix sedan that replaced it was always an exciting occasion, and both of these models also reflected the playful spirit that once defined the Pontiac brand.

Back when Pontiac first got its performance groove on in the '60s, names such as GTO, Firebird, as well as Bonneville became iconic nameplates in the broader muscle car era. The '80s saw Pontiac lose some of its styling heritage, but also try new things at the same time including turbocharging as well as the mid-engine sports car with the flawed but still sleek Pontiac Fiero.

When the Pontiac brand was shuttered in 2009, it was a mere few years after I earned my drivers license, and also when Pontiac was just beginning to regain some of its lost luster. Granted cookie cutter efforts like the Pontiac G3, ( Chevrolet Aveo) G5, ( Chevrolet Cobalt) and G6 ( Chevrolet Malibu) certainly did not help matters during Pontiac's final years on the market, but two models in particular offered a compelling glimpse into what could've been for the storied brand.

The first was the Pontiac Solstice roadster/coupe. Originally introduced as a concept back in 2004, and championed by everyone's fighter jet flying auto executive Bob Lutz, the Solstice was designed to be a serious competitor to the Mazda Miata, and while its interior ergonomics were flawed and the top solution not ideal. It proved to be a fun little car to drive, and also a sales success for Pontiac with initial demand exceeding expectations.This was especially due to its lineup of engines with the 2.0 liter LHU turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivering 260 horsepower in GXP variants.

The second and (inarguably my favorite Pontiac model) was the Pontiac G8 sedan. Originating in Australia as the Holden Commodore VE, the G8 was designed to rectify the multitude of sins created by the last generation Bonneville. Front wheel drive was pitched in favor of rear wheel drive, and for the first time in a long time interior ergonomics and cladding free exterior styling were key building blocks for success. The future seemed promising, and the 415 horsepower G8 GXP finally had performance that rivaled Germany's best. Sadly, its life (along with the brand that nurtured it) was snuffed out before the G8 had the chance to reach its full potential.

However, the stream of time only moves forward, and I believe that a revitalized Pontiac would appeal to a new generation of performance car buyers that crave affordable performance. But how would such a revitalization happen? And what would Pontiac have to do if it were given a second lease on life?

In my opinion, it would all start with a core model that would allow Pontiac to re-establish its core values while keeping itself relevant with the current automotive marketplace. This means the return of the Pontiac G8. Like the last iteration, rear wheel drive and clean exterior styling would be the key building blocks here but the new G8 would also have to deliver an interior that not only embodies sportiness, but provides the subtle comfort and refinement that many buyers have come to expect. This G8 reboot would have a diverse range of competitors from Dodge and Ford as well as select entries from BMW and Audi to contend with in the marketplace.

After the G8 has a chance to grow and establish itself in the marketplace, the next wave of new models would be crossovers to help Pontiac take full advantage of the recent spike in demand for crossovers and SUVS. Like the G8, style and performance would be key attributes, with the latter making up for the mediocre performance that the Pontiac Torrent was known for. However, look for versatility and practicality to also be key marketing points for any Pontiac crossover especially for small families as well as older customers.

These initial steps would help give Pontiac the capital and the resources it needs to explore other vehicle segments including the roadster segment which was once occupied by the Solstice. A reborn Solstice sequel would look to follow the successful tire tracks of its predecessor in sales, while also correcting some of the original's flaws to help it become a true contender in this niche segment.

With Dodge currently owning the spotlight for affordable performance vehicles, a revived Pontiac would be the perfect rival for GM and would inspire both companies to innovate and create new products for a new generation of budget minded enthusiasts.

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