DETROIT -- Last month, Pontiac missed the party.
During General Motors' blowout summer sale, seven GM brands enjoyed sales increases, ranging from Buick's 36.4 percent to Hummer's incredible 210.5 percent. Pontiac sales fell 14.1 percent.
Company officials blame the decline on a decision to cut fleet sales. But disappointed dealers blame Pontiac's vague brand image, a car-heavy lineup and me-too vehicles that resemble other GM products.
"The product is too much like what GM already has," says an Ohio dealer who asked to not be identified. "It's still a good-quality product; it's just not as exciting as it used to be."
Pontiac also depends heavily on car sales, with division partner GMC getting most of the trucks. Trucks were big sellers in June, but Pontiac could not take advantage.
Pontiac has struggled all year.
In a low point for Pontiac, GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz implied that it was a "damaged brand" in comments to analysts at the New York auto show in March.
Through June, total Pontiac sales are down 17 percent compared with the first six months of last year.
John Larson, general manager of Buick, Pontiac and GMC, says there are three key elements in the plan to rebuild Pontiac's image and its sales. GM will:
1. Promote its channel strategy to group Pontiac, Buick and GMC brands into single dealerships. To avoid overlapping products, GM will eliminate vehicles from the three brands.
2. Trim Pontiac's aging product lineup. Weak sellers such as the Bonneville sedan, Aztek sport wagon and Sunfire compact die after the 2005 model year.
3. Revive Pontiac's traditional performance image with the Solstice roadster, which debuts this fall. Pontiac also gets the Torrent sport wagon, which is based on the Chevrolet Equinox.
Pontiac executives say retail sales for June actually rose 17 percent compared with June 2004, Larson says. He blames lower fleet sales for last month's sales decline.
Larson says Pontiac sold 126,309 retail units through June, compared with 145,183 in the first six months of last year - a 13 percent drop. GM would not release retail and fleet breakdowns for its other brands.
'The toughest sale on earth'
Some frustrated dealers say the brand needs better marketing.
"Pontiac right now is the toughest sale on earth," says a Florida dealer who asked not be identified.
"We can't even get anyone to consider a Pontiac. If you get them to drive a G6, they come back impressed, but I don't think we've ever had anyone come in and ask about the G6."
A Detroit-area dealer who asked to not be named says Pontiac buyers tend to prefer trendy new products. So that buyer will cross-shop Pontiac with rivals such as Mazda, Honda, Toyota and even Chevrolet, regardless of incentives.
The Solstice roadster will add a bit of luster to the Pontiac lineup.
Many people do not know the G6 replaced the Grand Am, he adds.
"Pontiac should have retained the name Grand Am," Wangers says. "It'd be easier to recreate the image of the Grand Am than to create new name recognition for the G6."
No summer Solstice
Likewise, Pontiac placed the new Solstice roadster on the April 14 episode of "The Apprentice" reality TV show. But the car still is not in dealer showrooms, the Florida dealer says. The Solstice was scheduled to arrive in dealerships by mid-summer but was delayed because of production problems.
"There's a train of thought at GM of, 'Gosh, we need to tell them about it so they don't go look at Toyota or a Honda,' " says the dealer. "What they don't understand, because they've never stood in a showroom, is how people feel when they come to look for a vehicle and it's not there."
Larson says sales will look brighter in the 2006 model year, when Pontiac will have its full G6 lineup.
G6 sales have been hampered because the division is only selling the sedan with a 3.5-liter V-6. This fall it will add the 2.4-liter four-cylinder coupe and sedan as entry-level models, which should boost volume. And a 3.9-liter V-6 GTP performance version also is scheduled to appear in the fall.
Pontiac plans to launch the G6 retractable hardtop in the first quarter of next year. Pontiac began building the 2006 models in April.
Says Larson: "Just getting the availability of the G6 products will help us tremendously."
You may e-mail Jamie LaReau at [email protected]