Since the 1920s, millions of drivers across the world have celebrated, raced and collected a slew of cars from one of the oldest automotive brands in the United States.
And though Pontiac, maker of the popular GTO, Bonneville and Firebird car lines, has been turning out cars for more than 80 years, the company by the end of next year will build its last automobile, company executives announced Monday.
Because Pontiac is owned by General Motors, Pontiac”s closure will discontinue seven car lines within the GM lineup. However, the change likely will not heavily impact local dealerships and Pontiac aficionados, they said.
“GM has known for a long time that they had too many different lines of automobiles,” said Clyde Rhea, general manager of Carl Hogan Automotive on Highway 45 North in Columbus, whose dealership sells new and used Pontiacs. “They really need to streamline all of their lines, and I think this is a good start.
“We”ve dealt with this kind of thing before when GM got rid of Oldsmobile a few years ago. We carried new and used Oldsmobiles here before they did that,” Rhea added. “It cost GM about $1.2 billion to do that because they helped the dealerships to move their remaining Oldsmobile inventories. They took care of us then, and I think that will be the same this time.”
Jimmy Clark, owner and operator of Larry Clark Chevrolet, Pontiac and Buick in Aberdeen bemoaned the passing of the longtime car brand, but said the shutdown probably would not heavily affect his business.
“I really do hate to see it happen, but maybe the company or some of the car lines will be brought back in the future or through another one of GM”s companies,” Clark said. “The car business as a whole is in kind of a recycle mode right now, and the big companies are trying to trim back as much as possible to deal with the economy.
“As far as the specific number of Pontiacs we”ve been selling, I”m not completely sure right now,” Clark added. “We usually sell at least a few of them each month, but I could definitely say that you could not be solely a Pontiac dealership and survive.”
Rhea also agreed Pontiac sales made up a small percentage of his dealership”s overall auto sales.
“Pontiac is definitely a good line, but it makes up a really small percentage of our overall sales figures,” said Rhea. “I would say we probably sell four or five new Pontiacs each month and about that many used ones.
“Because we offer several different lines of GM cars, we can easily fill the Pontiac void with other models,” Rhea added.
GM Monday also announced it will cut 21,000 factory jobs at auto plants across the country and will reduce its dealership ranks from 6,246 to 3,605 by the end of 2010. The announcements are part of a GM plan to ask the government to take more than half of its stock in exchange for half of GM”s government debt.
Because the announcement came recently, local dealerships are not sure if GM”s dealer restructuring will affect them.
“Based on what we”ve been hearing, it sounds like a lot of the dealerships across the country are going to be affected by the closings,” said Clark. “Unfortunately, nobody really knows exactly what that is going to mean for their dealerships yet.”
“What all of this will mean for local dealerships, I don”t think we”ve gotten that far yet,” said Rhea.
With many questioning the financial future of some American automakers, Rhea also shared his feelings on GM”s stability.
“With the economy the way it is now, American auto companies like GM are going to have to start making some difficult decisions to stay afloat,” Rhea said. “I think it”s good that GM is going ahead and making some of those tough decisions now.
“As far as anyone worrying about being able to get parts and service for their GM vehicles in the future, I can assure you that GM will be viable in the future,” Rhea added. “GM is going to be here in the future, and they will be stronger after all of this has passed.”
Though auto dealerships likely will feel the brunt of GM”s decision to nix Pontiac, some are feeling the company”s passing on a more personal level.
“It”s been a very good car for me, and I have really enjoyed it,” said the Rev. John Cockrell, 95, owner of a baby blue 1966 Pontiac Bonneville. “I get all kinds of people who come here and ask if I will sell the car to them. It”s definitely not for sale though. I love that car.”
“They certainly were good cars, so it”s sad that they are going to stop making them next year,” said Rosemary Cockrell, John Cockrell”s daughter. “I”ve been taking that one out and driving it a good bit lately, and I love it. It”s just a shame that Pontiac won”t be around anymore.
“We”ll definitely have to hold on to that one forever now,” Rosemary Cockrell laughed.
Carl Ulmer, a member of the Southern Cruisers classic car club, though not a Pontiac owner, also expressed sadness over the brand”s passing.
“They were a good company, and it”s a shame to see them go,” said Ulmer, who owns a 1970 half-ton pickup and a 1968 Plymouth Belvedere. “But Pontiac owners, like all classic car collectors, are a very deep-rooted community. They”ll continue to cherish their cars even if the company isn”t around anymore.
“I don”t think it will cause the price of Pontiacs to skyrocket immediately, but I think it will make them more rare over time,” Ulmer added. “It will definitely make people hold on to what they”ve got now.”