Pontiac Aztek, one of the most ridiculed products in General Motors Corp.'s history, will go out of production in December 2004, Ward's learns.

GM recently pulled forward plans to stop making Aztek from the fall of 2005 to next year, industry sources say.

Aztek's earlier-than-expected demise frees up extra capacity at GM's Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, assembly plant to prepare for the introduction of the auto maker's all-new Delta small car platform, Ward's is told.

Aztek Marketing Manager Jim Vurpillat refuses to confirm the cross/utility vehicle's impending demise. “It's in our portfolio for the foreseeable future,” he says. “It's not going anywhere, at least for now.”

Featuring a boxy design, Aztek went on sale in mid-2000. Without an all-wheel-drive system at launch, Aztek flopped from the outset.

With a price range starting at $24,995, Aztek was too expensive for the younger buyers it targeted. Aztek was redesigned, and its entry-level price lowered to $21,445 in 2001.

GM wanted to sell 50,000-70,000 Azteks annually. Deliveries totaled 27,322 in 2001 and 27,793 in 2002, according to Ward's. Former GM North America President Ron Zarrella said the auto maker needed to sell about 30,000 Azteks annually to make money on the program.

“Anytime a vehicle doesn't hit sales targets, you're really going to have a lot of profit pressure,” Vurpallit says. “But we're in a lot stronger position today than we were a year and half ago. By the price repositioning, we've really limited the amount of incentives on Aztek.”

Aztek incentives now include $2,000 cash or financing rates ranging from 0% to 2.9%.

While a laughing stock to its critics, Aztek attracted a small but loyal following that established enthusiast web sites and owner rallies. About 40% of Aztek buyers are conquest sales, including some 20% from foreign nameplates, GM says.

Some of Aztek's cues — namely the boxy design and interior flexibility — now appear in Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s Element CUV, which was a nominee for 2003 North American Truck of the Year.

While Aztek departs, sources say production of its better-received platform-mate, Buick Rendezvous, will continue at Ramos Arizpe for three more years. It then will shift from GM's U-van GMT201 platform to the forthcoming front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive Lambda platform.

Sources say GM is eyeing Ramos Arizpe as one of two North American Delta assembly plants; the other is Lordstown, OH. A GM spokesman declines to confirm this scenario.

Lordstown will handle the Delta-based small car. Codenamed GMX001, the small car project includes the next-generation Chevy Cavalier. GM additionally is known to be considering a rear-wheel-drive version of Delta for production at Ramos Arizpe.

Called “Delta with a tunnel,” this offshoot is being considered as the platform for the Pontiac Solstice, Buick Bengal and Saturn Sky concept cars.