(note: shares are in decimals, not percentage as shown in legends)
I find that market share is a significantly more informative number than absolute sales, as the total market changed sometime quite drastically. My database doesn’t yet go past 1996, but it seems Pontiac settled into a fairly stable niche before its final demise. There is one caveat:
The total market is passenger car sales, excluding light truck sales. Total light truck sales prior to 1977 are not readily available, as they were typically lumped together with medium and heavy duty truck sales, back when trucks were all trucks. Since light truck sales really started to take off in the mid ’70s, this chart tends to make Pontiac’s share look better than it is, of the total market. But since Pontiac didn’t have any light trucks, it’s still fairly useful.
What’s interesting is that Pontiac’s mean market share seems to want to be around 7%, with periods of deviation.
The chart mostly matches my gut feelings, which is that Pontiac’s heyday was the 1960s, with a brief echo in the late ’70s so not surprised to see that was indeed their peak market share. Only the still-strong sales in the ’90s surprised me, although adding trucks/vans/SUVs to the mix would have likely negated that.
I assume part of the late ’70s rally can be credited to Smokey and the Bandit? Although they were already trending up even before 1977.
Selling one of the two musclecars on the market AND offering an alternative when your Olds dealer didn’t have one on the lot or was price gouging you more than normal on the red-hot Cutlass Supreme would have caused that rally. Did sales of the GP go up in the late 70s?
Sales of the Grand Prix increased dramatically with the introduction of the Colonnade version in 1973. The downsized models didn’t sell as well, but they still sold better than the 1969-72 generation.
Of course, some Pontiac dealerships might have been twinned with GMC, which should have blunted the advantage Chevy dealers had with everything under one roof.
“But since Pontiac didn’t have any light trucks, it’s still fairly useful.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t the Trans Sport and eventually Montana, Aztek, and Torrent be counted by the EPA as “light trucks”?
As I said, “fairly”, at best.
In trying to build out my database, the issues with these two categories is turning out to be a major obstacle. For Standard Encyclopedia of American cars only lists passenger cars, hence the ones you mentioned as well as others (minivans, etc.) are not included. Which is why I was reluctant to go as far as I did, and probably need to push it back to 1985 or so. Not including Chrysler minivans and such is not going to work. I need to find reliable stats on light trucks.
Was the vibe classed as a light truck? That was the last big hit Pontiac appeared to have, even if it was a Toyota Matrix. They were thick on the streets in the Chicago area
The spike from ’88-’90 shocked me at first, but thinking back and looking at the lineup I realized that my general age group were just buying our first new cars right around then. The Firebird, Sunbird, Fiero (until ’88 anyway) were pretty popular choices during that period. It always amazes me when I see a 23 year old buy their first car and it’s something like a Camry or an Elantra. I can’t think of anyone I knew back then who would even have considered something with 4 doors.
The Pontiac Bonneville, 87 and up was a huge improvement over the old fashioned style Buick and Olds full size FWD cars. Pontiac sold loads of them accordingly at the time.
They weren’t all that different than the Olds 88 or Buick LeSabre. Same size, same overall shapes, same drivetrains. The doors and windows interchange amongst all three.
(why are “amongst” and “drivetrain” getting flagged as misspelled?)
Yeah, the 4 door thing, that may actually be changing again (aside from CUV’s) as I am seeing a lot of newer 2 door Civics … hmm, maybe that’s it. On the West Coast, the shift toward young people buying 4 doors started with the 4 door Accord, in my experience, and by the time the Camry came out, the sedan stigma seemed to be fading with young people.
Accords aren’t sporty, so I don’t see that they did much to change the image of the 4-door sedan. I always felt that the shift was largely due to the explosion in popularity of the BMW 3-series in the early 80s. The Rabbit and Jetta took the trend farther into the mainstream. Japanese sedans have almost never been cool, but they began to get a pass once there were a lot of German 4-doors on the road.
Not to nitpick but the chart shows that the left side is in percentage but then the percentage is noted as .07 instead of 7 for example.
It’d be perhaps useful to have a second line showing total market including light trucks at least starting in the years when that is available, especially since those light trucks really did start gaining favor sometime in the late 70’s, early to mid 80’s, as DrZ pointed out there were a chunk of Pontiacs that presumably were counted as light trucks (just not pickups) or at least competed in those segments.
But I think I understand the whole idea of this particular chart, i.e. to show that Pontiac somehow stayed fairly level during its lifetime.
Yes, ideally so. But it’s too late now; Chartgo doesn’t maintain its memory for very long; my chart is now gone.
That mistake came about as I intended to show it in percent, but Chartgo wouldn’t accept the numbers from my spreadsheet with the % sign attached. So iI had to turn it into decimals and forgot to change the legend. I think it’s fairly obvious.
As I commented above, finding light truck stats has turned out to be fruitless so far.
One big thing shows up: Bunkie was wrong. Pontiac was heading up in ’56, then sharply down after he tore off the Silver Streaks and the Chief.
His attempted youthification of the brand was backwards. He removed the visual symbols that had attracted younger buyers, leaving a plain surface that might as well be a Chevy.
Either that or he alienated some old-time core buyers before replacing them with a more desired demographic.
The medium-price segment in general softened in 1956 and 1957, and then plunged with the short, sharp recession of 1958. Pontiac wasn’t the only medium-price car losing market share during those years.
By 1958, Buick, for example, was down to less than half of the sales it had recorded in 1955. That was a greater drop than the market as a whole. Buick would not break the sales record it set in 1955 until 1977.
And some rivals goes a bit down in the ladder price, Dodge with the full-size Dart in 1960 who rivaled Plymouth and Mercury in 1961 who was a dressed-up Ford until the mid-1960s and others like DeSoto, Nash, Hudson dissapeared which allowed a field open for Pontiac to go up to #3 in sales behind Chevy and Ford but ahead of Plymouth.
It would be interesting to see the Canadian Pontiac sales chart, here in the Great White North, there was some models years when Pontiac was ahead of Chevrolet.
Fascinating stuff. It’s amazing that Pontiac’s market share fell by more than half between 1980 & ’83, and then bounced back within a few years.
Also, the relatively steady trend line from 1990-96 is surprising. I wonder if during those years the composition of Pontiac’s sales changed much. My off-the-cuff impression is that smaller, cheaper cars like the Grand Am constituted more and more of Pontiac’s sales percentages as the years went on, as larger cars like the Bonneville & Grand Prix faltered… but maybe that’s just my impression.
Bunkie Knudsen must have had a few tense meetings with management during his first couple of years. I had not realized Pontiac’s share had dropped so sharply between 55 and 58.
From what I’ve read, GM’s top management originally gave him 3-4 years to turn Pontiac around, although they understood that the sales drop caused by the 1958 recession was beyond his control.
Pontiac had a fairly appealing lineup across the board in the 90s, Grand Ams were very common, Grand Prixs, Sunfires even Bonnevilles were popular, probably the last full size car that had a younger demographic buying them. It wasn’t like other brands like Olds or Buick where one or two models sold well and the rest languished in obscurity, Pontiacs were so common they were anonymous. That would reverse drastically in the 00s sadly.
’67 peak makes sense if you believe that styling sells. Firebird was new that year and at the time I liked it a little better than the Camaro. Add that to the ’66-67 Tempest, including GTO, the best looking GM A-bodies of all time, IMO, and you have a winner. The ’67 Catalina-Bonneville styling went downhill from ’66, but must have held on to enough volume.
Also: convertibles. In 1967 Pontiac offered many different convertibles, all attractive, on four different wheelbases (Firebird, Tempest Custom/LeMans/GTO, Catalina/Ventura/2+2/Grand Prix, and Bonneville). That’s five different Firebird convertible trims, plus eight different larger convertible nameplates according to the 1967 full-line brochure.
Station wagons also may have contributed, as Buick and Olds offered no B-body wagons that year, so GM big wagon buyers only had one make above Chevy instead of three.
Well, yes, especially as Pontiac offered the new-for-1967 Executive wagon in between its Catalina and Bonneville trims. But Olds and Buick offered the Vista Cruiser and Sport Wagon, respectively (with raised roof and wheelbase stretch versus their standard intermediate wagons), and it sold a good number of those.
Those were stylish and expensive, but not up to the task of a full-size wagon. Available with the biggest engines and beefiest transmissions, families towed with them, not pickups like today. Interior space also a bit of an issue. We had an Impala and my aunt had the Sportwagon. They had fewer kids and usually stayed in motels. There were more of us and we went camping.
I know Buick has the gravitas of the China market, but didn’t Pontiac easily outsell Buick all the way to the end?
Bill Lutz himself, when explaining GM’s bailout from his perspective several years later, straight up admits Pontiac as a division never made a dime after 1999…
Bob* sorry my edit window did not appear after I saw the mistake?
It’s been argued that keeping Buick around in the US was to not erode the brands prestige in China, lest buyers there there find out Americans don’t hold the brand on a pedestal. I don’t see the math working out for Buick’s US sales being more profitable from the premium on slower sellers than Pontiac at volume with a more successful lineup, at least until the 00s. Buick’s only really good sellers were the A body Century(which didn’t help Oldsmobile live with the identical Ciera) and the H body Lesabre.
The 2000 Bonneville and 2004 Grand Prix were duds after their successful predecessors, and the Aztec was basically a parody of the brand. Pontiacs possessed a lot of plastic cladding on them since the late 80s, but I don’t remember anyone really talking about it despairingly on Grand Ams et al until the Aztec opened everyone’s eyes. At the end I’m not so sure, Pontiac paired down the lineup substantially and dumped all their legacy names for G_. I think Pontiac had more brand equity in the minds of the general public in the US than Buick did(does) but that doesn’t really resonate with businessmen
Buick USA can likely be kept alive only because their dealers are paired with GMC, which sold about 565,000 light trucks last year. Buick is now a largely redundant all-crossover brand in America, with three vehicles on offer that together account for 187,000 sales, over half of those Encores. Meanwhile, Buick sells over a millions cars each year in China.
In 1981, we slid into a big recession. One can see that on this chart. Then we can see it tick up a bit in 1982, then plummet in 1983. This is the impact from dropping the full size cars + the economy. The rebound that occurs is the impact of the recession ending + the return of the full size as the Canadian Impala knockoff, Pontiac Parisienne.
It is hard to believe but Pontiac thought full size cars weren’t the future. The early 1980s recession hit all full sized cars hard. Ford planned to ditch the Panther. It wasn’t until 1987 that Ford did anything to update the car, and 1992 before they finally did a complete refresh. Since GM had their right-size full size vehicles since a booming 1977, they could coast through these down years and still make profits on them.
Why Pontiac ditched an excellent Bonneville and then lose all that market share just to end up with an optioned Impala from Canada is a lesson on market assumptions gone bad.
It will be interesting to see if ditching all the cars for SUVs will work for Ford and GM.
Pontiac”s B body sales weren’t good before or after the Bonneville was dropped. The only reason that Pontiac introduced the Parisienne in tne States was that the Pontiac dealers didn’t want their B body customers going to another GM dealer
I think an interesting contrast would be to show another line on the graph above that would depict the rise of Oldsmobile as the hot mid-price division of GM starting in the mid to late 1960s and going through the late 1980s. As customers placed a greater priority on luxury over muscle car style performance, Olds was well-positioned to pick up share as Pontiac struggled to maintain its identity as a as GM’s “excitement” brand.
Regarding Oldsmobile’srise as GM’s hot mid-price division, I just happened to have made this chart yesterday for an article I’m writing on an 88. This is only part of what you’re referring to, but it’s still interesting.
The years here are 1961-76 (which includes three full 88-series generations), but you can see how sales ballooned, and largely as a result of mid-price Cutlasses. Like you said, I’d love to see an equivalent chart of Pontiac production.
Interesting that Olds dipped in ’67, the same year Pontiac peaked.
Very interesting chart, and surprisingly stable, all things considered. I do think it is also interesting to consider the shift in the models that drove the volumes. The mid sixties peaks were fueled by Intermediates, especially LeMans and GTO 2-doors. The seventies high points can be attributed to strong Grand Prix and Firebird sales. The compact Grand Am then drove volume in the late-’80s/early-’90s. Also by the 1990s I think Pontiac was taking share within GM from dying Oldsmobile.
What I failed to point out, and it’s a very important point, is that Pontiac’s market share stayed relatively stable in an era (1980 on) where GM was losing market share overall. And the market was of course becoming much more fragmented. Pontiac outsold Chevy on at least one occasion in the latter years, in terms of passenger cars. Pontiac was actually quite successful in the 90s and early 00s. Of course profitability was another issue. Too bad profitability by divisions isn’t available.
I was wondering about profitability as well. I’d wager that in the Sixties the strength of Pontiac’s imagery allowed them to charge a premium. Also, the snazzier Pontiacs seemed to be fitted with extras like upgraded wheel covers or wheels, vinyl tops, etc. which undoubtedly drove margins. I think that would have held true for the Seventies as well–Grand Prix models seemed to leave the factory with loaded with options, and the wildly popular Trans Ams of the late ’70s were filled with high-margin add ons. I think one of the (many) things that obliterated GM in the 1980s onward was the loss of that pricing power. The popular Pontiacs of the late ’80s and 1990s were often discounted in a fiercely competitive market filled with often superior products (and brand images). So while volume and share may have been there, Pontiac was not able to fill GM coffers as it had in years gone by.
I liked the 99 grand am…till i sat in one.
By the 90s, Pontiac was selling cheap cars like the Grand Am steadily but not exactly making a killing on profits. Think Nissan in the 00’s with the Altima.
“Are you selling more but enjoying it less?”
By the time the GTO and G8 arrived, they had too long painted themselves into the corner of cheap and vulgar. Real enthusiasts had moved on.
Plus they did the Aztec. Still a better name than “Vibe”. Ugh.
I think the Aztek was when people realized the emperor was wearing no clothes. The Grand Am was the big seller in the 90s but the Grand Prix and Bonneville sold well in the 90s too, and suddenly the 2000s arrived and the Aztek was the butt of every joke in the industry and everything made fun of on it was on other Pontiacs to some extent, I’m convinced that if not for it the Grand Am wouldn’t have shed its side cladding in 04.
Vibe was a better name than G5, G6 and G8. When they decided to nosedive every legacy name for a dumb alphanumeric scheme it’s clear in hindsight the brand was doomed.
The chart proves that without the Star Chief in the lineup, it was mostly downhill from there. Doesn’t it???
Very funny… Actually the Star Chief’s successor, the Executive, sold lots of cars in its brief existence, 1967-70 (including a wonderful ’67 wagon that was in my family).
When reporting criteria changes from year to year, trying to divine trends leads to using statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp pole. More for support than illumination.