Tuesday, June 7, 2011

GM's North American Four Brand Strategy - My Thoughts

First, let me say this. I am not knocking why GM did what it did when it came to its Four Brand North American strategy. We all know that GM had to get lean and mean, and do it in quite a hurry. With that being said, could the North American Four Brand strategy that GM used have been executed differently and ultimately better than what we have today?

According to autoblog, GM has lost 71% of Saturn and 70% of Pontiac owners who traded their current Saturn/Pontiac cars in on other brands and did not stay within the GM family. In GM’s defense, I believe GM thought that Saturn owners would move to Buick and Pontiac owners would move to Chevrolet. Thinking since Saturn was starting to merge their design with Opel’s, that those same Saturn owners would see the same Opel design cues that were now being used with Buick. In the case of Pontiac, GM was criticized for years that Pontiacs were only Chevrolet clones with Pontiac grilles and tail lights. I think there were some assumptions made that Pontiac owners also thought this, and would move to Chevrolet en masse.

As I see it, Saturn owners see themselves as a Different Kind of Car owner, and would never see themselves as Buick owners. Pontiac owners are loyalist to the end, and feel that their brand is unlike anything else that was in GM. To this day, Pontiac owners are angry that their brand was tossed aside when in their eyes; it should have been Buick that was let go, since in North America, Pontiac outsold Buick 3 to 1.

I’ll get back to Buick and Pontiac in a moment, but let’s take a look at GM’s two truck brands shall we? As most of you know GM has Two Truck Brands, Chevrolet and GMC. When the U.S. Government (Feds) had their people in reviewing GM’s product line, the Feds, questioned GM about having 2 trucks brands, in particular they questioned the existence of the GMC brand. That’s when GM explained to the Feds that GMC made a lot of money for GM, because its customers were willing to pay a higher price point for a product that GMC owners saw as better than Chevrolet trucks. The Feds saw the logic in that and allowed GM to keep the GMC brand in the GM fold. GM kept Buick over Pontiac for one simple reason, it sold Buick in China and China is an emerging auto market where GM now sells more cars there, than it does in the USA. So when all was said and done, GM ended up with their current Four Brand North American strategy, Chevrolet, GMC, Buick, and Cadillac.

I think there could have been a better ways to streamline the old GM into the new GM and keep the maximum amount of customers in its customer base.

If I got to make the choices and the cuts to make the new GM viable, I would have put forth two plans, the first would be as follows, and please hear me out.

Plan 1:

1. I would have shuttered Buick in North America, and Pontiac would have gotten a stay of execution. I would have transformed Pontiac into the Holden Special vehicles (HSV) of North America where Pontiac would get two or three halo cars. I think this would have kept Pontiac buyers in the GM family.
2. Buick would remain a Chinese only brand, because in China, Buick is held in high regard.
3. There would only be one truck brand, and unlike the Feds who wanted to dismantle GMC, I would only keep the GMC brand, and shut down Chevy trucks in North America. My reason for keeping GMC over Chevy trucks is that a GMC truck could be offered to any GM dealership no matter what other GM brands that dealership sold.
4. Both Chevrolet and Cadillac stay and are sold as Global brands.

So in the end under Plan 1, there would be Chevrolet (cars), Pontiac, GMC Truck, and Cadillac. Buick would only be sold in China using Opel & GM Korea clones. Chevy trucks would be sold worldwide except in North America.

Plan 2:

1. Buick and Pontiac shuttered in North America
2. Chevy Truck Shuttered in North America.
3. Selected Holden models sold as Chevrolets along with mainstream North American Chevrolet models.
4. Opel sold in North America.

So under plan 2, there would be Chevrolet (with certain Holden models sold as Chevys), GMC Truck, Opel and Cadillac. Buick would only be sold in China using Opel & GM Korea clones. Chevy trucks would be sold worldwide except in North America.

What do you think of these two plans? At present GM’s North American Four Brand strategy is working and Buick is seeing buyers it hasn’t seen in years, but do these new buyers negate the Saturn and Pontiac buyers who have left the GM family? Let me know your thoughts.

I thank you for your time …



  1. To be honest I kind of liked the way they handled the situation.

  2. There weren't enough Saturn owners to care about, but there are enough current and former Pontiac owners. I'd have kept at least the G8 coming in, and maybe eventually greenlighted the Coupe 60 as a new GTO. We all know the Solstice had to go because the plant was going, plus Kappa was not profitable. Besides the G8 family, I would have taken your idea of Pontiac becoming like HSV - take any GM car (Cruze, Regal, et. al. ) and sell the "hot" version as a Pontiac.

    I just saw a Mazda commercial where they talked about their cars being for people who like to drive. This is exactly where Pontiac should have been...