Last week, General Motors (G.M.) announced it was phasing out its Saturn brand entirely, ending the Pontiac division, and selling off Saab and Hummer as it seeks to get more loans from the federal government. Five years ago, the Detroit automaker dropped Oldsmobile, a brand that had been around since 1897. G.M. also manufactures Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac.
Founded in 1908, G.M. until recently was the world’s largest carmaker. According to its 2007 Annual Report, General Motors had operations in more than 70 countries and more than 250,000 employees worldwide. Its 2006 worldwide revenue topped $206 billion.
Marketing consultant Diana LaSalle wonders how consumers will react to the loss of some brands. She writes: "The news that G.M. is axing or contracting four brands may make sense financially, but for a lot of consumers, it will just seem wrong. For many, a car isn’t just transportation, it’s part of one’s self-image. Where car companies have blundered is not so much in having too many brands, but in losing the essence of the brands."
Over the decades, G.M. autos came to symbolize American culture and mobility. After the end of World War, the Chevrolet brand popularized the jingle, "See the USA in Your Chevrolet." The Pontiac Trans Am earned a cult following in the 1970s after the success of the film Smoky and the Bandit. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Buick Electra 225s became minor status symbols, drawing the nickname "Deuce and a quarter." In the 2000 stand-up comedy film The Original Kings of Comedy, Cedric the Entertainer refers to an Electra, saying: "We’d drive the space shuttle like it’s a ’72 Deuce and a quarter."
Around the country drivers are reminiscing about the end of well-loved G.M. brands. One poster on the New York Times blog, "Wheels," wrote: "I will always have a special place in my heart for Pontiac. I remember being with my parents when they drove a brand new 1969 LeMans off the lot. It had a 350 V8, bucket seats with a center console for the three speed automatic shift." But not everyone is ready to hitch a ride on memories. And many don’t think G.M. is doing enough to insure that their particular brand of gas guzzlers take a back seat. Dan Becker of the Los Angeles Times writes: "Stop wasting time and money fighting regulations that would reduce pollution that causes global warming, and abandon the sham of manufacturing supposedly green cars that can run on E85 ethanol, a blend of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol."
The changes at G.M. mark the end of an era for the U.S. automobile industry, but even some G.M. loyalists say the company (in spite of its commitment to change) is still out of synch with the times. "While G.M. is busy trying to convince the country through PR that it is poised to become a major player in the new era of sustainability, more and more Americans look at G.M. as the company that symbolizes the old era of gas guzzlers and SUVs," wrote Jeffrey Feldman, editor-in-chief of Frameshopisopen.com.
It is time for G.M. to drop some brands? Is there a particular G.M. car that holds a special memory for you? Can G.M. ever get its mojo back? Will you be glad to see the Hummer follow the path of the Oldsmobile? Are automobiles losing their appeal as status symbols? Are U.S. automakers out of step with the times? Will the new brand of fuel-efficient cars become the "Deuce and a quarter" for the younger generation? What does the future look like for the U.S. auto industry? Do you think G.M. is genuine in its efforts or are they simply looking for loopholes in federal fuel-efficiency standards?
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