I remember how freaky it was when I found out the manufacturer of the car I drove (and still drive), Oldsmobile, was going out of business.
As someone who has worked in automotive marketing, I could understand why they chose to eliminate the brand. One minute they were advertising the brand as “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile,” then they changed course and portrayed the brand as practical and affordable luxury. So which one were they? No one knew for sure, but based on my car, I’d say the latter. It isn’t overly sporty, but it’s been very dependable and at 127,000 miles it shows no sign of quitting aside from a few quirks that all old cars have. There was also a lot of overlap in products with Chevrolet and Pontiac.
Over the next few years, I became keenly aware that Olds was not going to be the only brand to say bye-bye. Having spent most of the last decade in automotive marketing, I saw this slow, steady decline in car sales. It first started with American cars, which led to Olds’ demise and the general thought that cars made in our country simply couldn’t measure up with foreign cars.
No matter how much of a red-blooded American you are, you couldn’t deny the facts, either. All the automotive research companies found that, year after year, Toyota, Lexus, Porsche and Honda were always atop the dependability standings, with the occasional appearance of an American car here and there.
Toyota and Honda, especially, trumpeted these facts to the public every chance they got, and basically pooh-poohed any American offering that hit the streets. Guess you couldn’t blame them.
Recently, the American automakers went to work, seeking to level out the playing field. They’ve successfully done so to some degree, but is it too late? It took them so long to right this wrong, American cars are still suffering from the stigma that might not even be true anymore.
And now, due to the sharp decline in sales, no matter what brand you sell, you’re suffering. Dealerships are closing everywhere.
With today’s announcement that General Motors is phasing out the Pontiac brand, another piece of automotive history will go by the wayside. Think back … the Trans Am, the Firebird, the GTO … muscle cars. The cars that every young male wanted.
Soon, there will be one less automotive brand from which to choose. One wonders how many more will follow. The Chrysler Corporation is not doing any better than GM financially, and GM has several other brands (Hummer, Saturn, Saab, Buick … did I forget any?) that are slumping and could easily find their way onto the chopping block. The Ford Motor Company still has weak sisters Lincoln and Mercury.
How far down does the auto industry have to go, and how many more brands will be lost before things return to some semblance of normalcy? No one knows for sure, but my guess is that it will be a very long time. Too many brands for too few buyers equals a survival-of-the-fittest market, and not everyone will be left standing when it’s all said and done.
So take a look at your car. See what brand it is. Then ask yourself what the odds are that you may soon be like me – behind the wheel of a dinosaur.