The Montana package of the Pontiac Trans Sport minivan has sold so well that Pontiac-GMC has dropped the Trans Sport badge from the vehicle's nameplate.
The switch was made during the first two weeks in July, when General Motors shut down for tooling changes in its plants. The decision, in effect, creates a second brand for the Pontiac minivan.
Sales of all Trans Sports through June were 77.5 percent ahead of last year, 23,636 vs. 13,319.
Forty-one percent of those sales were of the $1,000 Montana package, which includes badging, paint, aluminum wheels, load leveling and traction control.
'We're selling the Montana at a higher rate than we're building it,' which was 39 percent of Pontiac-GMC's allotment, said Trans Sport Brand Manager James Murray.
Pontiac-GMC boosted the Montana build to 50 percent of the Trans Sports assembled at the Doraville, Ga., plant, which also makes the Chevrolet Venture, Oldsmobile Silhouette and Opel and Vauxhall Sintra.
The Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac minivans, redesigned for the 1997 model year, are more popular than their 'Dustbuster' predecessors. The new models through June racked up 64,581 sales, 66 percent better than the old models last year. But that is still well below Chrysler Corp.'s dominant trio of minivans, which had 273,430 sales through June.
NO MORE TRANS SPORT?
Because of the increasing popularity of the Montana, Murray said dropping the Trans Sport nameplate completely is being discussed.
However, it is not a simple process. For instance, the base Trans Sport is very popular in Canada, Murray said. 'So you just can't pull the plug and decide to take the name off the vehicle.'
The Trans Sport comes in three variations, and the Montana package can be added to all of them. The three-door, short-wheelbase version is $21,049; the three-door, long wheelbase is $22,009; and the four-door long wheelbase is $23,939. The prices include a $570 freight charge.
A PLEASANT DILEMMA
The nameplate discussion is undoubtedly a pleasant dilemma for Pontiac-GMC and its ad agency, D'Arcy, Masius, Benton and Bowles. Researchers at the agency discovered that first-time buyers account for up to half of the annual 1 million-plus minivan market. They also found that newcomers didn't buy minivans because they wanted to; they bought them because they needed practical transportation for small children.
And since loyalty rates are high in the minivan segment - 60 percent at Chrysler Corp. - Pontiac-GMC decided to go after first-time buyers who typically think minivans are stodgy and boring.
So the Trans Sport, spearheaded by the Montana, is pitched as a rugged, adventurous vehicle that combines the functionality of a minivan and the aggressiveness and fun of a sport-utility.
That is why current ads feature the Montana in a Western setting. 'We found that the Old West has a lot of positive association for both men and women,' said Mike Talovich, a senior vice president at DMB&B.
Murray predicted the Trans Sport will hit its sales target this year of 50,000, and sales may increase to 70,000 in 1998.