They are two versions of the same car. One is losing ground in the market while the other is gaining. Why?
That is the situation with the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky, and the answer may be nothing more complicated than the public image of the brands.
Solstice sales are down 19% in the first half of this year. On the other hand, dealers are scrambling to get the Sky, GM has only a month’s supply in stock, and customers are having to wait to get one.
Not to be misleading, the Solstice still outsells the Sky. But – and it is a very large but – Pontiac has over six times as many dealers as Saturn. On average, a Pontiac dealer is selling one Solstice every two months. Pontiac has 2700 dealers. A Saturn dealer, on average, sells four Skys in two months. Saturn has 440 dealers. In other words, Saturn is selling about three-fifths as many Skys as Pontiac sells Solstices with less than one-sixth as many dealers.
At the current sales rate, Pontiac will only sell 18,000 of the 20,000 Solstices it intends to build in the current year. Pontiac’s spokesman, Jim Hopson, has said that Pontiac attributes the sales decline to the turbocharged GXP model, contending that buyers prefer the GXP to the non-turbocharged version. But that doesn’t really explain matters, as the Sky has a turbocharged model, as well. In fact, both the Solstice and the Sky use the same turbocharged engine.
Pontiac sales are down 17% overall for the first half of this year. That contrasts to GM’s company-wide sales decline of 9%. Clearly, Pontiac is not doing as well as the rest of General Motors. Pontiac, unfortunately for it, has perhaps the worst image of all the GM nameplates. Even Buick has had a resurrection, of late, with the Enclave. But Buick suffered because it had a stodgy image, not because the cars seemed cheap and shoddy.
Unfortunately for the brand, the same is not true of Pontiac. All of those years of tacking plastic siding onto their cars and selling them on price have taken a toll. Saturn, in contrast, came to market as the car with a “no dicker sticker,” and has largely maintained its image as a relatively well-made if, until recently, bland vehicle. There is an almost intuitive sense that the Saturn will be the better-made car, even though both are actually manufactured at the same Wilmington, Delaware assembly plant.
Seldom is there an opportunity to so clearly see the impact of a brand on the sales of the car. The Solstice and Sky are the same car, built in the same plant on the same platform with the same drivetrain. They have the same body, differing only in the styling differences required to establish brand identity.
That the Sky is doing so well while Solstice sales are slipping badly a mere two years after the model’s introduction cannot be explained by the cars themselves. It only can be explained by the difference in the two brands and/or the differences in their dealers. The sinking Solstice illustrates just how far General Motors has to go to overcome the brand image which Pontiac has created for itself over at least the last two decades.