CHICAGO –Co. is ahead of schedule in the decommissioning of its Pontiac brand, with the auto maker now expecting to run out of vehicles sometime in November, if not sooner.
GM announced in April it would shut down Pontiac at the end of 2009 as part of its restructuring plan, leaving Buick and GMC the lone survivors of what was a troika of brands the auto maker had blended together into single dealer points throughout the U.S.
“The phase-out of Pontiac was different than the phase-out of Olds,” Buick General Manager Susan Docherty says referencing the dismantling of the Oldsmobile brand that began in 2001. “The Olds phase-out took five years, during which we built 250,000 more cars. Pontiac is quicker.”
Docherty says following the announcement it would close, Pontiac delivered 20,000 vehicles in June, 18,000 in July and 18,000 in August.
“Now we have only 16,000 plus change left, and within 60 to 90 days we will be out of cars,” Docherty says. “So the wind-down is much quicker.”
Earlier this week, U.S. sales chief Mark LaNeve said there were no plans to restock Pontiac lots.
“We’re not going to do any, and we haven’t done any,” he says. “We haven’t built any, (except) a couple for fleet, but not many.”
LaNeve says GM also is ahead of target when it comes to closing its lame-duck dealers.
“We’re well-ahead in the sell-down on inventory,” he says. “Our initial wind-down agreement said dealers had to stay in business until Jan. 1. We’re relaxing that requirement and letting guys who have sold out or nearly sold out close up their operations right now. We’re well ahead of the game.”
Docherty says GM had 3,000 Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealers ahead of its restructuring under bankruptcy protection, and by October 2010 it will be left with 2,000 Buick-GMC dealers.
Buick’s lineup will be bolstered with the revamped LaCrosse midsize sedan making its way to U.S. dealers. The LaCrosse will become Buick’s new flagship after the Lucerne is phased out in mid-2011, Docherty says.
Also on tap for Buick is a midsize sedan (the Regal) targeted to hit the market in second-quarter 2010, a compact sedan and a small cross/utility vehicle insiders refer to as the baby Enclave.
Meanwhile, GM is looking for a new home for its plug-in hybrid vehicle technology that originally was to bow in the next Saturn Vue. That vehicle was transformed into a Buick when the auto maker decided to sell the Saturn brand, but the “Vuick,” as some called it, subsequently was scrapped when it failed to win over potential buyers given a sneak peek.
“We need to find a new home for the plug-in,” Docherty says. “We haven't cancelled the program, it’s just that a plug-in isn't a fit for a small Buick. We have to determine where else it would fit.”
Buick’s future will look “most like Acura and Lexus,” the general manager says. But it won’t abandon today’s customers.
“We need to keep our current owner base and conquest sales,” Docherty says. “Enclave has our youngest owner average (about 55), and it’s 50% loyal Buick owners and 50% conquest. Our goal in the future is to sell premium cars loaded with premium equipment at non-premium prices.”
Volume will increase dramatically within the next two years, she predicts.
“We sell about 94,000 units a year now and within 24 months want that up to 150,000 to 200,000.”
– with James M. Amend in Detroit