What’s up with the GMC Pontiac Holden "Ute"?
(and will it be at the CHicago Auto Show?)by Ralph Kalal, on
Is GM reconsidering building the expected “El Camino” version of the Holden “ute” as a Pontiac? (“Ute,” Aussie for “utility.”)
Might it end up being a GMC?
Here’s the basic story:
General Motor’s Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz told members of the Australian press last week that GMC would be exhibiting a four-door concept at the New York Auto Show in March which will be a “ute.” The “ute” is the Australian term for a truck with auto styling, the down-under version of what we always knew as the El Camino, back in the sixties and seventies. Holden currently sells a two-door ute in Australia. In the past, it also sold a four-door ute, which was known as the “Crewman.”
A Pontiac version of the current two-door Holden ute is expected later this year. It is a version of the recently introduced Pontiac G8, and is expected to be available with either a 361 hp V-8 or a V-6 of 265 hp. The base price for the V-8 version is expected to be about $31,000. The V-6 model will be less expensive.
But, now Lutz is saying that GMC will be exhibiting a four-door, apparently a version of this vehicle, one which he described as “a global design study – and a very interesting study in that it is a GMC tough-looking four-door that could then obviously be badged as a Holden for Australia.” Lutz continued, saying that “[i]t is very tough looking, with a sport-utility look that is very low, very aggressive looking, a blend between a sport utility and the classic Australian four door ute. The first time you see it, you might go, ‘whoa! I’m not sure I like this!’ because it is so tough and masculine looking. But the longer you look at the proportions the more right it looks for the type of image that it is trying to portray.”
Now, here is where it gets really interesting.
Prior to and during the North American International Auto Show this month, General Motors executives have been unequivocal in stating that the United States version of the Holden ute would be a Pontiac. GM North America president Troy Clarke and TopSpeed.com had a discussion of that very point during the press chat days accompanying GM’s introduction of their new GMNext.com website. Clarke told TopSpeed.com that the ute would not be a Chevrolet and specifically stated that there was no reason that it would not fit well into the brand image of Pontiac, which is centered on specialty vehicles. During the press days of the NAIAS, Mark LaNeve, GM’s sales boss for North America, confirmed that the vehicle was coming, but wouldn’t be an “El Camino,” appearing to regard the vehicle’s status as a Pontiac as a done deal.
Lutz, however, was hedging when he spoke to the Australian journalists. Speaking in terms of “if we” were to bring the “ute” to the United States, Lutz said the company wouldn’t give it to Chevrolet and would want to keep it “in the same franchise” as the G8. According to Lutz, Chevrolet has so many new products that its dealers and salespeople cannot be expected to absorb more. So, if not Chevy, then what?
Lutz said that it would be either Pontiac or GMC, then added:
“[It] makes very little difference because they are in the BPG channel, where Buick is at the top of that with near-luxury vehicles and the idea is that Buick would never have something overtly truck-like while GM is all overtly truck-like with nothing that resembles a passenger car. Pontiac would be focused on sporty, high-performance passenger type of vehicles, and that’s where the ute fits, that’s where the G8 fits, and that’s where the Pontiac Solstice fits – and that’s how we want to focus that channel.”
Of course, as customary, Lutz creates more questions than he answers.
If the image of Pontiac is for “passenger type” vehicles and that of GMC is “nothing that resembles a passenger car,” then what’s with the concept being badged as a GMC?
One gets the sense, from Lutz’ remarks, that GM’s still not exactly sure what the “ute” is, car or truck.
It’s the same problem the company had with the El Camino and the GMC version of it, the Sprint, during the El Cam’s production, which lasted from 1959 through 1987. Dealers tended to treat them as trucks, and sell them through the truck department. But, to truck sales people, the El Camino was really a car: it optioned out the same way as a car, it had load capacities essentially the same as a station wagon (which is what it was based upon), and it wasn’t nearly as practical as a standard pick-up.
So, what’s going on?
It is known that a Pontiac version of the Holden sportwagon, which would have been an addition to the G8 family in the states, has been cancelled. Lutz told the Australian press that the cost of bringing it up to unspecified American “regulations” was too high and that sportwagons don’t sell in the States. The fate of the Dodge Magnum may have had something to do with that decision, though it’s more likely that this is another casualty of the losing CAFE war: had it been imported, the sportwagon would have been a V-6 only, in order to offset the lower mileage of the “ute,” which originally was to be equipped only with the V-8 for the U.S. market.
With the sportwagon out of the picture, there won’t be a real family of G8 vehicles under the Pontiac brand. So, maybe the thinking is that a truck version would detract from the G8’s image, particularly if GM were to produce a four-door “ute.”
Perhaps GM is still trying to make up its mind about the brand it’ll be.
Perhaps GM is still trying to make up its mind about brand identity.