How Pontiac Can Keep The Electric Transition On Track For GM

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In a recent issue of Car and Driver, a mysterious full-page ad announcing the return of GM’s Pontiac brand (which got killed during the GM bailout 15 years ago) has people arguing and debating. Is it a real ad, or a joke by C&D or someone else who paid for the ad space? If it’s real, is it a deniable trial balloon GM is using to see what people think of the idea? The below video gets into the details of the advertisement, but I’ll write more below it with a quick summary and some of my ideas.

Before summarizing, let’s look at what the ad says, in full:

The largest text: MAKE SOME NOISE
Followed by: PONTIAC IS BACK

The main body:

“Pontiac fans, it’s been a weird 15 years since we left, hasn’t it? Now we can’t definitively say that Pontiac’s absence influenced the events we all have been through, but c’mon. 

A revived Pontiac can be the equivalent of Ford Blue. Make money on exciting sporty hybrids so that other brands can get the needed funding to go EV. Caffeine comes out of Four Loko, and now it’s in lemonade? Everything on the road looks like an Aztek now?

You need us. America needs us. The future needs us. So Pontiac is back.

Our first model is a hybrid. Surprised? Well, it uses a battery and an electric motor to start a 667-hp supercharged 372-cubic-inch V-8. And we think you’re going to want one, because what else are you going to do? You can’t buy a new Dodge Challenger and leave the splitter guards on anymore. Don’t worry, we’ve got you–our new car’s entire front end is a splitter guard.

At Pontiac, we’re here to offer a future filled with V-8s, great sounds, gold pinstripes, and window louvers. And, if someone shouts “Last call,” we’ll just smuggle in some Coors from Colorado and keep the party going.”

But, what has many people saying it’s a joke is the fine print at the bottom: “DISCLAIMER: Do you need to be told that this advertisement is fake and not to be taken seriously? Our lawyers think you do.”

But at the same time, that disclaimer is really weak and vague. Whose lawyers recommended the disclaimer (assuming any did)? Are we being told that the ad is fake, or are we being told that someone thinks we should be told that? The wording leaves just enough room for interpretation to both serve as a disclaimer and to be a fake disclaimer.

Personally, I’m inclined to say it’s not real. If the ad were trialing the idea of a hybrid V8 Pontiac, it might have some credibility in today’s emissions environment, but the ad is really saying that all ICE vehicles (sans those started by a hand crank) are hybrids, because a battery and starter motor gets the ICE started.

There’s also the fact that GM doesn’t make a 372 V8 anymore, and hasn’t in quite some time. A slightly de-bored or de-stroked 6.2L V8 could be a 372, or they could just call a 6.2L V8 a 372 for marketing purposes, though. So, who knows? Maybe it’s real and GM’s people decided to make it totally stupid so they could deny it was them if the idea got rejected.

Whether Real Or Fake, It Could Be A Legitimate Strategy

Personally, I don’t think it really matters whether it’s real or fake, because bringing Pontiac back as a hybrid performance brand could be a good way to help GM stay in the EV game. Why? Because the company needs to be able to make money on overpriced goods to get its crap together for mass EV production.

How do I know this is a good idea? In short, because Ford’s doing something similar. Instead of phasing out ICE vehicles haphazardly and replacing them with EVs, Ford cut the fat first. Cars that nobody gives a crap about, like eco sedans, they quit making entirely. Then, they made a plan to offer emotional ICE vehicles, like the Bronco and increasingly potent Mustangs — vehicles they could make a decent profit on — to keep the company going while big money gets invested in EVs.

This strategy (called Ford Plus) has been derailed a bit by slower than expected but still growing EV demand. But, the basic idea still stands. If nothing else, Trans Am Worldwide (a company that remakes Camaros into what we’d imagine a present-day Pontiac would look like) shows that there’s some demand for a return!

How GM Could Do This

GM could bring Pontiac back as a hybrid brand to cash in on performance vehicles for a few years using mostly off-the-shelf parts. There are two great reasons to do this.

First, it keeps the other brands that are headed to Electric Avenue from having to sell ICE and hybrid models and keep their names associated with that. This allows those other brands to make a clean break from ICE and hybrid while giving the other brands a chance to build a more futuristic image.

Second, it could be done without spending all that much money on R&D. If it were me, I’d do it as a “through the road” hybrid, with a V8 powering one set of wheels and a small electric drive unit powering the front wheels. In performance mode, this could be a potent and fun vehicle, but in EV mode, it could save drivers a lot of money on weekdays while being slower.

For a more nimble Pontiac, the modern version of a Fiero or a Solstice, a series hybrid drivetrain could be easily implemented. Using a standard off-the-shelf Ultium or Bolt drive unit, a small and light car could be a lot of fun to drive without being heavy. Adding a tiny range extender (perhaps sourced from Mazda?) could give the vehicle road trip range while allowing 60-80 miles of range around town for all local needs.

For both of these vehicles, GM could charge a premium, make money, and invest it into increasing battery production.

Would Pontiac Need To Go Away Again?

I think this could be a great long-term strategy, and not just a transitional gimmick. Why? Because there’s no need to ban hybrids and even ICE vehicles in the long run. GM could keep Pontiac around for a very long time making low-volume production of classic and classic-looking hybrid vehicles.

This would both lessen pushback against EVs (and regulations requiring them) and give nostalgic people an outlet. If all daily-driven vehicles go EV and only a small number of vehicles like this were made in the long run, the emissions contribution of this tiny minority of cars would amount to a rounding error at best.

So, GM folks, if you’re reading this, pass the idea up the chain. A lot of people would have a lot of fun with a new GTO and a new Fiero/Solstice-like hybrid!

Featured image by Trans Am Worldwide, showing one of their conversions. (Fair Use, Commentary)

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1987 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba