Will the Pontiac G8 Ute (Sport Truck) Bomb in the Showroom?
Amid the hoopla of the New York Auto Show and GM’s preview of the upcoming Pontiac version of the Holden ute produced in Australia – what we’d call the El Camino of today – comes a dissenting opinion, presented by one Peter M. DeLorenzo, the voice of AutoExtremist.com.
DeLorenzo thinks the things going to bomb.
DeLorenzo’s opinions are never equivocal, though his crystal ball sometimes needs Windex. After all, it was Lorenzo who said that the next Corvette was a sure thing for 2012 and would be mid-engine.
On the ute, his point is that the sport truck doesn’t fit into either the Pontiac line-up or the professed image of Pontiac for, as Bob Lutz put it in New York, “seductive performance.”
In fact, DeLorenzo doesn’t believe there’s any market for such a truck, under any nameplate. And then he asks why Pontiac doesn’t, instead, seek to exploit those of its model names that still have meaning, such as GTO and Trans-Am.
(more after the jump)
Both Troy Clarke, president of GM North America, and Bob Lutz have told TopSpeed.com that the rationale behind giving the ute to Pontiac rather than Chevrolet – which has a history with such a vehicle – is that Chevy has ample new product on the lot and in the pipeline and doesn’t need more. Lutz repeated that explanation to the press in New York earlier this week.
That, at any rate, is the public explanation for why there’s no new Chevy El Camino.
Behind the public explanation, however, it appears that there is more going on.
The suspicion is that Chevy didn’t get the ute because it didn’t get a rear wheel drive Impala. That car, which was to be based on the same platform as the G8, was axed when GM got the first hint that the new federal CAFE legislation would be far less favorable than GM had anticipated.
Still, the rationale for bringing the ute to the States as a Pontiac is mystifying. Holden manufactures a sportwagon version of the Commodore in Australia – what used to be called a station wagon years ago – available with the full range of luxury and performance options as the sedan. It is reported that GM planned to bring that model to the states as a version of the G8, as well.
That plan, however, was cancelled as soon as the CAFE legislation actually passed, and the plan to import the ute was amended to include a V-6 version. Originally, only a V-8 was to have been available in the ute, with a V-6 offered in the sportwagon G8.
Elimination of the sportwagon version from the G8 import plans was ostensibly a marketing decision: the rumor was that GM concluded the wagon wouldn’t sell in the U.S., partly based on Dodge’s failure to sell the Magnum in adequate volume.
It would be lame to draw conclusions from the sales of the Dodge Magnum, because Dodge did little to promote the Magnum. Dodge dealers demanded, and got, their own version of the 300, the Charger, after which Chrysler focused its attention on selling that ugly duck, neglecting the Magnum entirely. That BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi all think it worthwhile to sell sportwagon versions of their products ought to be a more persuasive marketing precedent.
It seems more likely that the elimination of the sportwagon was an instance of cutting GM’s losses. GM had less invested in re-engineering that vehicle for the American market, so could drop the plan without sacrificing much investment. The ute was further along. In light of the CAFE legislation, GM made a quick decision to back away from V-8 powered rear wheel drive vehicles.
Whether that’s an adequate explanation for the demise of the sportwagon, of course, is entirely speculative: it was supposed to have been a V-6 vehicle.
But, pairing your ‘seductive performance’ sedan with a truck still seems like an odd marketing decision. Had the sportwagon been introduced, there would have been a line-up of three distinct vehicles, each with a distinct emphasis on the sport performance persona. Without the wagon, the appearance is one of a line-up planned, but not completed.
There also may be an ulterior motive.
It may be that the ute is coming to the States because GM wants to test the market for truck-like vehicles based on car platforms. Such vehicles seem, currently, to be the fashion in the industry.
Though the Honda Ridgeline has been a sales disappointment, Toyota seems to want to try the same concept and recently displayed the A-BAT concept, a vehicle with truck pretensions based on a passenger car platform. General Motors, not to be outdone, presented a GMC concept vehicle at the Chicago Auto Show, the Denali XT. A four door vehicle with a truck-like body, but with passenger car characteristics, the vehicle was a clear effort to marry the look of a crew-cab pick-up with the suburban idea of comfort, all in a package designed to look sufficiently macho that buying one wouldn’t get you labeled a phony.
Perhaps GM wants to see how the G8 sport truck does in the showroom, to gauge whether to invest in something like the Denali XT.
I am, of course, happy to see the ute coming to the States, albeit gravely disappointed that it’s not a Chevrolet El Camino. I’m a fan of the El Camino.
Back in the day when I was the truck department lot boy at a Chevy dealer, my boss was permitted to order his demonstrator every year, whatever he wanted, exactly what he wanted.
One year, 1972 to be precise, what he wanted was a fully loaded SS454 El Camino, with hood induction, and every conceivable option.
He got to drive it precisely three weeks, before it was sold out from under him.
Always wanted that ride.