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The Real Reason Pontiac Flopped

by George Mensah

Prior to becoming famous for its “We Build Excitement” slogan in the 1980s, Pontiac was ingrained in vintage car culture with its brilliant Pontiac GTO, unquestionably one of the most legendary and famous muscle cars of the swinging ’60s. The first-generation GTO (via DrivingLine) launched the muscle car era, which was later joined by other hall of fame members such as the Dodge Challenger, Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang, and Plymouth Road Runner, among others. The Pontiac GTO was so well-known that the company had no trouble selling 100,000 1966 GTOs to eager buyers.

The Pontiac GTO was not only a sight to behold with its signature front grilles, bulbous hood scoop, and sleeker appearance, but it also had an optional Tri-Power upgrade to its standard 6.4-liter cast-iron V8 that produced 360 horsepower. The mighty V8 musters 380 horsepower when equipped with the XS Ram Air Package, and the Pontiac GTO was complete with all the histrionics of a legendary muscle car.

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Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Pontiac kept the party going with the Grand Prix, Firebird, and Grand Am, but the brand wouldn’t last.

The Pontiac downfall

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In the hit 1977 film “Smokey and the Bandit,” who can forget Burt Reynolds and his black-and-gold Pontiac Firebird? However, during the 1970s energy crisis, large, heavy cars with thirsty V8 engines fell out of favor (via The New York Times). Suddenly, gasoline prices skyrocketed, and a slew of environmental issues such as pollution, climate change, and global warming reared their ugly heads. Consumers were now looking for more compact and fuel-efficient vehicles, which is bad news for a company that built its reputation as the forerunner of the glorious muscle car era.

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According to GM Authority, General Motors got rid of Pontiac (along with Saturn, Saab, and Hummer) during its Chapter 11 reorganization in 2009. For starters, the Pontiac brand had been losing money for a few years by that point. Second, for every rebadged Chevy sold, Pontiac lost money. To make matters worse, Pontiac undermined the Chevy brand by selling cars at a lower price than the latter. There were reports of GM executives and employees doing everything they could to save Pontiac until the very end, but the writing was on the wall.


As a result, on April 27, 2009, General Motors announced that it would formally discontinue Pontiac amid bankruptcy and corporate restructuring in order to focus on its four core brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and Buick. Even so, the Pontiac Trans Am, Bonneville, Firebird, and GTO will live on in the hearts and minds of enthusiasts who were fortunate enough to live in a glorious bygone era. Despite the latter becoming Walter White’s vehicle of choice in “Breaking Bad,” the Fiero and Aztek remain pivotal in Pontiac’s cherished lineage.

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