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  • Writer's pictureTim Jackson

Pontiac becomes name for car brand based there

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Pontiac was a brand of automobiles manufactured by General Motors (GM), one of the world's largest automakers, from 1926 to 2010. Unlike other brands that made up the early years of General Motors, such as Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Chevrolet, mostly named for their founders or early inventor engineers, Pontiac was named for a city near Detroit where early Pontiacs were built.

General Motors established Pontiac in 1926 as a companion marque to its already operational Oakland brand and its name was derived from the town of Pontiac, Michigan, where the company was founded. Over the years, Pontiac became known for producing affordable, performance-oriented vehicles that appealed to a wide range of consumers.

The first Pontiac was the Pontiac Series 6-27, which was introduced in the brand’s first year, 1926 and was powered by a six-cylinder engine. The car was a success and Pontiac quickly became known for producing affordable, reliable vehicles that were popular with the American public. During the 1930s, Pontiac expanded its lineup to include a range of vehicles, including coupes, sedans and convertibles.

During World War II, Pontiac, like almost all other automakers, shifted its production to support the war effort. After the war, Pontiac resumed production of civilian vehicles, and in the 1950s, the brand began to gain a reputation for producing performance-oriented cars. In 1955, Pontiac introduced its first V-8 engine, which was a huge success and helped to establish the brand as a leader in the performance car market. The 1960s were a golden era for Pontiac, with the introduction of iconic models such as the GTO, Firebird and Grand Prix.

The GTO, often referred to in automotive slang as Goat, was introduced in 1964 as a muscle car that quickly became a cultural phenomenon. The GTO was powered by a V-8 engine and could reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour in just over six seconds. The GTO was a huge success in performance car circles and it helped to establish Pontiac as a leader in the high-performance car market. The Firebird, which was introduced in 1967, was a pony sports car designed to compete with Ford’s Mustang which launched in 1964. The Firebird was also a success and it helped to establish Pontiac as a leader in the sports car market.

During the 1970s, Pontiac continued to produce performance-oriented cars, but it faced increasing competition from foreign automakers. The oil crisis of the early 1970s also had a significantly negative impact on the automotive industry as consumers began to demand more fuel-efficient cars. In response, Pontiac introduced a range of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, such as the Sunbird and the Phoenix.

The 1980s were a challenging decade for Pontiac, as the brand struggled to find its footing in a rapidly changing automotive industry. In 1982, Pontiac introduced the Fiero, a two-passenger sports car that was intended to compete with the Toyota MR2. The Fiero was a unique car, as it was one of the few mid-engine vehicles produced by an American automaker. However, the Fiero was plagued by quality issues and it was discontinued in 1988.

During the 1990s, Pontiac shifted its focus away from performance-oriented cars and toward more practical vehicles. In 1992, Pontiac introduced the Grand Am, a mid-size car that was designed to compete with the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. The Grand Am was a success, and it helped to establish Pontiac as a leader in the mid-size car market. In 2000, Pontiac introduced the Aztek, a crossover SUV that was designed to appeal to younger consumers. However, the Aztek was a commercial failure, and it is sometimes cited as one of the worst cars ever produced. Ironically, I bought an Aztek for our son who was in college at the time. It was a very reliable and relatively efficient vehicle to operate at the time. Kendall Jackson actually liked the Pontiac Aztek. I did too.

In the 2000s, Pontiac continued to struggle, as the brand faced increasing competition from foreign automakers. In 2004, Pontiac introduced the G6, a mid-size car that was designed to compete with the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. The G6 was a decent car, but it never captured the imagination of the car buying public in the way that the GTO and the Firebird had done previously. We owned a Pontiac G6 convertible in dark blue color.

During the worldwide economic recession of 2008-09, I was part of a lobby team that advocated for bridge loans for the US domestic manufacturers. CEOs from General Motors, Chrysler Corporation (then owned by Cerberus Capitol) and Ford Motor Company were all on the team advocating for bridge loans. Only General Motors and Chrysler ended up seeking the bridge loans. Ford avoided the need for bridge loans by accessing capital before the recession hit. Both General Motors and Chrysler Corporation eventually went through the bankruptcy process to gain relief from long term debt. As part of its restructuring plan, General Motors announced that it would discontinue the Pontiac brand, along with Saturn, Saab and Hummer. Those were dark times for the industry and triggered the demise for Pontiac as a new car brand.


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