On this day in 2009, the struggling American auto giant General Motors (GM) says it plans to discontinue production of its more than 80-year-old Pontiac brand.
Pontiac’s origins date back to the Oakland Motor Car, which was founded in 1907 in Pontiac, Michigan, by Edward Murphy, a horse-drawn carriage manufacturer. In 1909, Oakland became part of General Motors, a conglomerate formed the previous year by another former buggy company executive, William Durant. The first Pontiac model made its debut as part of the Oakland line in the 1920s. The car, which featured a six-cylinder engine, proved so popular that the Oakland name was eventually dropped and Pontiac became its own GM division by the early 1930s.
Pontiac was initially known for making sedans; however, by the 1960s it had gained acclaim for its fast, sporty “muscle cars,” including the GTO, the Firebird and the Trans Am. The GTO, which was developed by auto industry maverick John DeLorean, was named after a Ferarri coupe, the Gran Turismo Omologato. According to The New York Times: “More than any other G.M. brand, Pontiac stood for performance, speed and sex appeal.” Pontiacs were featured in such movies as 1977’s “Smokey and the Bandit,” in which actor Burt Reynolds drove a black Pontiac Trans Am, and the 1980s hit TV show “Knight Rider,” which starred a Pontiac Trans Am as KITT, a talking car with artificial intelligence, alongside David Hasselhoff as crime fighter Michael Knight.
By the mid-1980s, Pontiac’s sales reached their peak. Experts believe GM hurt the Pontiac brand in the 1970s and 1980s by opting for a money-saving strategy requiring Pontiacs to share platforms with cars from other divisions. In 2008, General Motors, which had been the world’s top-selling automaker since the early 1930s, lost the No. 1 position to Japan-based Toyota. That same year, GM, with sales slumping in the midst of a global recession, was forced to ask the federal government for a multi-billion-dollar loan to remain afloat. On April 27, 2009, as part of its reorganization plan, GM announced it would phase out the Pontiac brand by 2010. A little over a month later, on June 1, GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, becoming the fourth-largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.