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From Autoweek:

Rebuilding Excitement
Despite new products, marketing efforts, Pontiac still struggling to regain sizzle


AutoWeek | Published 05/15/06, 8:12 am et

"Revive Pontiac" has been on General Motors' to-do list for decades. Even as other GM brands became nondescript and the company's market share tumbled, GM executives insisted they could build excitement around Pontiac again, as they did in the muscle-car era of the 1960s.

Pontiac is enjoying a rebirth of its products, its marketing, its brand image and its showroom sizzle. For now, though, those gains have yet to show up in sales figures.

The brand has created buzz-building tie-ins with properties ranging from Google to Oprah Winfrey's TV show. Surveys indicate that Pontiac is appearing on more young consumers' shopping lists.

"It hasn't been the coolest thing to have a Pontiac in your driveway for a while," says Pontiac Marketing Director Mark-Hans Richer. "Our job is to re-establish that feeling."

Richer, 39, is a Milwaukee native who attended his high school prom in a 1957 Ford Thunderbird. He grew up appreciating the Midwestern roots of Pontiac's success. Yet he insists that rebuilding the brand requires more than appeals to nostalgia.

"It would have been far easier for us just to be retro and do what the '60s Pontiac was," Richer says. "But people forget that back then, Pontiac was a very progressive brand. So we're trying to move it into a new space and still be true to what we've been."
'Social acceptance'

Pontiac's strategy is based on "creating social acceptance" for the brand, Richer says. That starts with offering exciting vehicles such as the Solstice roadster, which is available in limited quantities but creates a halo. Pontiac also is banking heavily on the sporty G6 sedan, which just became available in a convertible, and the Torrent crossover.

Besides new vehicles, Richer is pursuing what he calls "product fusion": aligning Pontiac with other popular brands.

Winfrey's giveaway of 276 G6s to her studio audience in 2004 was the first gambit. Pontiac vehicles have been written into plot lines of the reality TV shows "Survivor" and "The Apprentice."

Its TV commercials have invited viewers to "Google Pontiac," boosting online searches for the brand. This year, as in 2005, Pontiac is co-sponsoring a concert tour with the Virgin record label. The British label selects the music for Pontiac spots.And while Pontiac makes effective use of traditional media, the brand's Web site is gaining kudos. J.D. Power and Associates ranks among the three most useful new-vehicle shopping sites, largely because it is easy to navigate.

Because of the brand's revival, built on new products and new marketing, Pontiac's showroom traffic is up about 20 percent compared with a year ago, according to CNW Marketing Research Inc. of Bandon, Ore.

"That's actually an incredible increase," says CNW President Art Spinella. "While they have some new products, for the most part they're a mainstream brand."

Younger customers

About 40 percent more women are entering Pontiac showrooms this year, CNW says. The average age of Pontiac shoppers has dropped to 41 this year from 54 last year, Spinella says.

But Pontiac's U.S. sales continue to slip. Through the first four months of 2006, sales were down 7.5 percent over the year-ago period. The 437,806 vehicles Pontiac sold last year were down from 474,179 in 2004.

Some guardians of the brand remain skeptical.

"GM doesn't have enough time, money or smarts to reinvent Pontiac," says Jim Wangers, a retired GM executive who helped create Pontiac's muscle-car era. "They've got to recapture what the brand was."

Other critics say GM has undercut all its brands over the past few years by emphasizing price discounts to move vehicles. GM Chairman Rick Wagoner vows to break the company's addiction to incentives.

Richer says he welcomes the challenge. Soon after he joined GM about nine years ago, he developed the "Professional Grade" brand positioning that helped turn GMC around.

"Cars are an incredible category with incredible opportunity," Richer says. "And I really believe Pontiac is one of the best opportunities out there."

2,488 Posts
Where are the 6 speed automatics?
A G6 with 6 speed auto, with the 3.6 DOC would be a nice camry fighter
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