This time there appears to be no escape. But Pontiac could count itself lucky, because it narrowly dodged a bullet 50 years ago.
Born without fanfare in 1926, Pontiac immediately succeeded Oakland as General Motors' first step-up brand (from Chevrolet), but its early years were undistinguished. In the mid-1950s, there were rumblings around corporate headquarters: Do we really need Pontiac?
Pontiac had become plain and stodgy. It was known for the "Silver Streak" -- half a dozen bands of bright metal from windshield to prow. They had outlived their stylishness; they were remnants of 20 years earlier.
Then, in 1956, GM top management took pity on its stumbling offspring. General Manager Bunkie Knudsen, chief engineer Pete Estes and assistant chief engineer John DeLorean were sent to Pontiac. They brought about one of the greatest brand transformations in automotive history. Estes and DeLorean succeeded Knudsen as general manager.
Bunkie's first move was to rip the Silver Streak off the hood of 1957 models. It was all he could do on short notice. The first car developed by Bunkie, Pete and John was the 1959 model, and it was a sensation -- wide track, split grille, killer styling. Sales jumped 66 percent. In a few years, Pontiac was No. 3 in U.S. sales.
Then came the GTO, conceived by DeLorean and adman Jim Wangers and put into production by Estes, who risked his job to do so. GM leaders had authorized no such Pontiac hot rod.
Later, the ads cried, "We build excitement." And, for a while, Pontiac certainly did.