OK, that’s feeding a bit too much from the paranoid spoon, but it’s true that marketing has its fingers in most aspects of daily life, making it difficult to distinguish hype versus reality, others’ impressions versus our own. Such was the case during a visit to GM’s Southern California design center last week, an outing dedicated to speeches by company executives, the unofficial unveiling of the V8-powered 2008 Buick LaCrosse Super, discussion about the upcoming Pontiac G5 coupe, and a test drive in the 2007 Pontiac G6 Convertible. It was the promise of a spin under the G6’s new retractable hard top that led us to spend two hours fighting traffic to reach the studio in North Hollywood.
That’s where we heard about GM’s devotion to Pontiac, one leg of a newly-created so-called brand channel, the result of which will be an increasing number of Pontiac, Buick, and GMC dealerships co-existing under one roof. In this scenario, GMC’s got trucks covered, Buick’s all over the elegant premium vehicles, and Pontiac will offer “seductive performance.” Hence, the G6 coupe, sedan, and now, hardtop convertible. When the entry-level G5 coupe is added later this year, company executives suggest these dealerships will have most anything buyers want, from inexpensive cars to heavy-duty trucks and luxurious SUVs (of course, buyers shopping on one of America’s many Boulevards of Cars could walk 100 feet north to the Toyota dealer or 100 feet south to the Ford dealer and get the same variety, but that’s beside the point).
That’s the hype part. The reality part is that at least one of the three props holding up this brand channel isn’t what GM's marketing folks would have you believe. The Pontiac G6, while perfectly fine in many respects, is not a performance car. Not in terms of its powertrain or its handling. True, a new engine pushing about 250 horsepower is coming, but a quick look around in the G6’s segment unearths several competing models with equal or greater power, and few trying to paint themselves as performance machines. To be worthy of such a description, a car needs not only a lively powertrain, but responsive steering and tightly controlled handling. The G6 lacks all of these traits.
Ah, but it has a retractable top, making it the least expensive hardtop convertible on the market. Well, that’s what Pontiac thought before it was announced that the 2007 Volkswagen Eos will start about $500 less. Maybe putting all of the time and energy that went into making the hardtop work properly would’ve been better spent developing a powertrain and handling package befitting a performance car. Company executives admit that there’s much work left to do, but suggest that progress is being made. After driving the G6 convertible, we’d say Pontiac needs to pick up the pace.