[March 6, 2009] At this writing, many wonder whether or not GM can survive at all. If it can, it’s already a fairly accepted fact that it will only be able to do so as a simpler, smaller company. Those considered its “core” – most viable, most profitable and most promising – brands, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC are likely to carry on: GM has stated on several occasions in recent months that it’s committed to these four divisions. That leaves Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn all with futures uncertain, leaving loyalists and owners similarly uncertain about their cars’ futures.
The Hummer brand’s future wasn’t all that bright before today’s overwhelming pressures? With vehicles expensive, large and thirsty, arguably unnecessary, its days – at least with its current lineup of medium, large and extra-large SUVs – were numbered one way or another? At least three “enemies” have been working toward Hummer’s demise:  Those in the “green” movement have been opposed to these vehicles (and others of their type) for many years.  Last year’s gas price spike took a heavy toll on sales (and ever-increasing minimum MPG requirements are/were always going to be difficult to achieve).  The current economic crisis, and its adverse impact on new sales overall, has been particularly painful for Hummer dealers (as February's sales in 2009 were some 67% lower than in February 2008). While Hummer may have been able to soldier on with only one of these “monkeys” on its back, it surely has little chance with all three? Those who will suffer most from Hummer’s demise: Hummer dealers who were required to build expensive and impressive dealerships to sell the unique, up-market brand. Owners will likely suffer some lost resale value, but that may have already taken place. But, since many of the Hummer’s “guts” are from other GM models (large trucks and SUVs), critical parts might not be a problem ?
If there’s a bright spot on the "endangered species" list, it’s Pontiac. Pontiac has a long history, one without many detractors, and stands a good chance of surviving, though it may have only a few so-called “niche” models to offer. Currently, Pontiac models are on a hodge-podge of platforms, some shared with other GM products (which may or may not make them sustainable without too much cost or effort). The Solstice is similar to the Saturn Sky and a European Opel. The G8 is sourced from GM Australia. The Vibe is almost identical to the Toyota Matrix (as bizarre at that relationship might appear!). The G6 is similar to the Chevy Malibu, the G5 is related to the Chevy Cobalt, and the G4 is akin to the Chevy Aveo (so there's a lot of won't-be-missed repetition in Pontiac's current line-up). The Torrent is similar to the Chevy Equinox, and is already scheduled to be dropped, its replacement shifted to the GMC line. Pontiacs most viable “niche” cars at this stage are the G8 and the Solstice. In recent years, GM has also been in the process of combining Pontiac dealers with Buick and GMC, so the dealer network is relatively safe and secure (and the G8 and Solstice don't mimic any existing Buick or GMC products). Those who will suffer most from Pontiac’s demise (if it actually occurs): dealers with stand-alone Pontiac stores, and countless Pontiac fans and loyalists. Unlike two other recently dropped brands, Plymouth and Oldsmobile, Pontiac has a larger, more enthusiastic following, a group that will sorely miss this iconic brand.
Saab has a small, but dedicated following. Saab loyalists were none-too-pleased when GM bought the company, fearing its once-unique product line would be ruined by GM placing Saab-like parts on existing GM models, as it, in fact, did with the Saab 9-7X (which is little more than a Chevy Trailblazer or GMC Envoy in “Swedish clothing"). The Swedish government may or may not help Saab stay afloat. It’s rumored that as many as five buyers are interested in the Saab brand. Those who will suffer most from Saab’s demise: Saab loyalists and Sweden’s pride in its once home-grown auto brand? However, if another company purchases Saab, there may be hope for both?
Perhaps the most disappointing loss that could result from GM’s brand dropping is Saturn? Though it got off to a slow and rough start, with small, generally unspectacular products, it’s easy-going no-haggling sales methods and relatively unique character have garnered many dedicated fans. Sadly, though it currently sports a wide array of promising all-new products, it has not gained the attention and popularity it might have deserved. Like Pontiac, Saturn’s lineup is shared with others as well. Its new Astra compact is nearly identical to a European Opel model. As mentioned above, its Sky roadster is a Pontiac Solstice sibling. Its Outlook crossover is related to the Buick Enclave, Chevy Traverse and GMC Acadia. The Aura sedan is related to the Chevy Malibu. Though there’s been talk about Saturn “spinning off” from GM, it seems an unusual concept since all of its products share platforms and components with other GM products. Those who will suffer most from Saturn’s demise: Saturn dealers, many of whom own stand-alone stores, Saturn loyalists who enjoy Saturn’s fairly unique approach to marketing and sales. Saturn: a great concept that just wasn’t properly handled, marketed or nurtured by its parent, GM.
For more information on the many, ever-changing aspects of which of GM’s brands may or may not survive, visit our NEWS page, particularly the Industry & Manufacturing section.