It's almost a given when an automaker shutters a major brand that there will be some lingering ill will from at least a certain percentage of its former customers. Granted, car companies don't fade from existence all that often, but experience with those which have disappeared from the scene over the course of the past decade or so indicates that if not handled properly, loyalties to the parent organization can be severely strained.
This was most readily seen when Oldsmobile ended more than 100 years of operations in 2004. Although customers had a three year period during which to prepare for the brand's termination, the attrition rate was quite high: within the past 6 years, only 20 percent of former Oldsmobile owners have chosen to purchase another General Motors product.
Eager to avoid a repeat of this unimpressive statistic, GM is doing whatever it can to strengthen ties with current Pontiac owners, who themselves are facing a similar brand oblivion. As Pontiac dealerships disappear from the landscape and the few remaining units left in inventory see their prices slashed for a quick sale, General Motors is making overtures to Pontiac drivers to let them know that they won't be forgotten when the dust settles.
Any current Pontiac owner in possession of a certified used vehicle, or who bought their vehicle brand new, has been sent certificates guaranteeing them four free maintenance visits at any Buick-GMC dealership. The maintenance is restricted to tire rotations or oil changes, but are effective throughout 2010. With approximately 1 million certificates mailed to owners whose purchases date back to 1999, it is clear that GM is hoping to show Pontiac owners that they have not been lost in the shuffle and that they should continue to invest their trust in the company by making either a Chevrolet, GMC, Buick or Cadillac their next purchase. The initiative should also assuage worried owners concerned that parts and service availability and quality for their current Pontiacs will suffer once restricted to non-Pontiac dealerships.
GM ultimately hopes that many Pontiac buyers will transition to Buick ownership around the same time as the expansion of that premium marque has been completed. Whether this will occur or not is debatable, given the lack of similarity between Pontiac and Buick's lineups (no equivalent Pontiac Solstice roadster, Pontiac G8 performance sedan, or Pontiac Vibe compact crossover).
There is as yet no word on whether the certificates are transferable should the vehicle in question be sold to a third party. Used and new car shoppers looking to pick over the bones of what is left on Pontiac lots should also enquire about receiving a similar maintenance promise along with their purchase as an added incentive.
Strangely, no word has been given regarding the possibility of Saturn owners receiving the same level of treatment, despite that brand finding itself in the exact same position as Pontiac. If General Motors is hoping to avoid negative publicity and not strain driver loyalty, it would seem critical that they not be perceived as favoring the ownership group of one cancelled car company over another.