Feds Told GM To Drop Pontiac Or No Bailout, Ex-GM Exec Says

When General Motors shut down Pontiac, it left a lot of enthusiasts wondering why. It was primed with a lineup of powerful, rear-wheel drive models, and seemed like it had a bright future ahead of it. It turns out that GM killed it on government orders, according to former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz.

Friend of Jalopnik and west coast editor for Autoweek Blake Rong had an interview with Lutz today, and from what Rong is putting out on his Twitter feed, it's full of plenty of bombshells. None bigger, though, than this one:

If true, it's a big revelation of the scope of power that the government held over GM during the worst days of the recession. Power and threats like that are often spoken of, though rarely in such explicit terms. Even still, there's not much of an explanation yet as to the specific objections the Feds had about Pontiac. The division seemed to be heading in the right direction after years of wayward stumbling. The Pontiac G8 was receiving rave reviews, and a new GTO was in the pipeline.

Lutz went on to tell Rong that Pontiac was intended to have an all rear-wheel-drive lineup, and that the new Pontiac G6 was supposed to share a platform with the fairly excellent Cadillac ATS.

It's amazing what could have been, and we may never know the exact internal discussions the government had when it decided to shutdown the storied brand. Something tells me Lutz knows more of the story.

UPDATE: It turns out Bob Lutz was speaking at an event at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, and expanded on his comments more in a Q&A. Lutz is asked about Pontiac around the 2:14:10 mark here:

Pasted below is a transcript of his words. I've bolded the most important parts:

The Feds basically wanted to get GM down to Cadillac and Chevrolet. They said, "you don't need all these brands. You need one prestige brand, and one mass-market brand." And we said "well we can't get rid of Buick because Buick is important in China, and if Buick becomes an orphan in the United States then the Chinese are no longer gonna be interested in it." And the Feds said "Fair enough, but everything else goes." We said well we'd also like to keep GMC. They said "well, GMC is basically just like Chevrolet," and we said "that may be true, there may be a lot of shared components, but GMC has an entirely different image, a different customer base, and people are willing to pay different prices for a GMC, and here's the profitability," and the Feds said "whoops, okay, keep GMC."

So now we had Buick, GMC, Cadillac, and Chevrolet, and then, I wanted, badly wanted, to keep Pontiac, because Pontiac was on its way back, and it had been mismanaged for a number of years, you know, with 'rebuild excitement,' and the excitement was only in the plastic body cladding, mechanically there was nothing about Pontiac in the 90s that would make your heart beat faster. And with the solstice and solstice coupe, and with the Pontiac G8, which was a great car. We were embarked on a strategy of making pontiac different from the rest of GM in that Pontiac wouldn't get any front wheel drive cars, they would all be rear-wheel drive, and the next G6, was going to use the architecture of the cadillac ATS, it was going to be a 3-series sized rear-wheel Pontiac, with basically the Cadillac ATS 'de-premiumized,' obviously, a lot of the cost taken out, but still fundamentally that architecture.

That was going to be the next G6, and I think we could've moved pontiac away from every other American volume brand and really started positioning it as attractive US alternative to some of the, and obviously at much lower prices than the european rear-wheel drive cars, but the Feds said "yeah, let's just, how much money have you made on pontiac in the last 10 years?" and the answer was "nothing." So, it goes. And, when the guy who is handing you the check for 53 billion dollars says I don't want pontiac, drop pontiac or you don't get the money, it doesn't take you very long to make up your mind.

But I think it is a shame, Pontiac was on its way back, and it was killed before it, before the plant could really sprout blossoms, you know, it was well on its way. So, I agree with you, I think Pontiac was a great, wonderful history, mismanaged for a number of years in the 80s and 90s and it was clearly on its way back, and we were starting to see a very good customer base in solstices and especially in the G8, which was favorably compared in a lot of road tests to the BMW 5-series, people would say dynamically the car is as good and it's more powerful and way cheaper, but that was too bad. but you can't go through Chapter 11 without some really harmful effects.

H/t to thetrekologist for the video!