On this day in 2005, the Pontiac Solstice Roadster, a new two-door sports car from General Motors retailing for approximately $20,000, is featured on the reality TV game show “The Apprentice,” starring the famously bombastic businessman Donald Trump.
Created by reality TV producer Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”), “The Apprentice” featured a group of young businesspeople in an elimination-style competition vying for the prize of a one-year, $250,000 job with one of Trump’s companies. Airing on NBC beginning in 2004, the show became a huge ratings hit. For the Pontiac cross-promotion, an advertisement about the Solstice ran during the April 14th episode, directing viewers to a Web site where they could register to purchase one of the first 1,000 vehicles. The cars, which featured special “First 1,000” plates, sold out in 41 minutes. In addition to the ad, the Solstice was featured prominently in the episode itself, as the centerpiece of a competition in which two teams of contestants were required to create a promotional brochure for the new vehicle. Pontiac executives judged the results and one member of the winning team was awarded her own Solstice. After the show aired, more than 650 Pontiac dealers in 47 states took orders for the Solstice and some 4,000 people were put on a waiting list, according to Automotive Digest.
The Pontiac-“Apprentice” partnership was one in a string of TV tie-ins for the auto brand, which General Motors first introduced in 1926. In September 2004, Pontiac famously gave away a G-6 midsize 2005 sports sedan with such features as XM Satellite Radio and heated leather seatbelts to all 276 members of TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s studio audience. In February 2005, the talk show “Live with Regis and Kelly” hosted “Live’s Pontiac Extreme Van-A-Day Giveaway,” in which one new Pontiac Montana SV6 Sports Vans was given away each weekday of that month.
Despite these promotional efforts, Pontiac struggled to maintain healthy sales. A division of General Motors since the early 1930s, Pontiac reached its peak sales in the mid-1980s. Experts believe GM hurt the Pontiac brand during the 1970s and 1980s by opting for a money-saving strategy requiring Pontiacs to share platforms with cars from other divisions. On April 27, 2009, GM, hard hit by the global economic crisis of 2008 and slumping auto sales, announced plans to phase out the Pontiac brand by 2010.