Pontiac has reached the end of the road

Jaclyn Giovis Nov 1, 2010

After an 84 year ride, the Pontiac brand has retired for good.

Contracts between parent company General Motors and Pontiac dealers expired Sunday, the result of bankrupt GM’s financial woes and a bailout deal with the U.S. Treasury Department.

The expired contracts mean the signature Pontiac red, arrowhead logos on the signs above dealerships should be down, as of today. GM halted production on the last Pontiac about 11 months ago at a plant north of Detroit.

It’s been a slow death for the Pontiac brand, which once was an icon for American muscle cars.

For most of the 1960s, Pontiac was America’s No. 3 brand, behind Chevy and Ford.

There was the prized GTO, developed by engineer John Z. DeLorean and known for its powerful engine and wide wheelbase. The Trans Am, another muscle car favorite, made its Hollywood debut with Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit”.

But the oil shocks of the 1970s and new mileage rules changed the U.S. auto industry, and the focus became more fuel-efficient vehicles, said Peter Wells, an engineering professor at Cardiff University in Wales.

“In those days Americans didn’t care how much petrol they burned on the way from A to B, and were happy to kind of celebrate those big engines,” Wells said. “Those days are really gone for Americans and for the rest of the world.”

As time wore on, the brand lost its luster with consumers. Efforts to revive the brand in the 1990s and 2000s fell flat.

When GM filed for bankruptcy and struck a bailout deal with the Treasury, it also chose to discontinue the Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab brands, so it could focus on Buick, Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac. Saturn reached the finish line last year. Hummer is in the process winding down. And the Saab brand was purchased by a Dutch auto group.

“Pontiac has had a rich and storied history, but unfortunately, despite the efforts of all concerned, the brand has been unprofitable over the past several years,” said Susan E. Docherty, GM North America Vice President of Buick- Pontiac-GMC, in an April 2009 statement on plans to discontinue the brand.

Pontiac warranties will continue to be serviced by GM facilities. Parts will be available for the foreseeable future, the company states on its Web site.

Marketplace reporter Scott Tong contributed to this report.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.