Q: Hi Greg. I’d like to know your opinion of Buick versus Pontiac and the decision to keep Buick and drop Pontiac by General Motors (GM).
I’ve read your columns on Buick’s popularity in China as being the major reason, but from your way of putting things, what are your opinions less the China reason? Larry D., Dover, Delaware.
A: Larry, there are so many variables to this question, but I’ll do my best and try to give some historic input, especially where Buick is concerned.
Buick was the very first car that GM founder William “Billy” Durant held in his business holdings. In 1908, Durant formed General Motors with this one Buick offering. Thus, if one looks at the decision whether to keep Buick or Pontiac solely from a historical stance, Buick is the “Godfather” of all GM brands.
The inventor of the Buick was David Dunbar Buick, a Scottish industrialist who started with horseless carriages in 1903 following success as one of the founders of how to apply porcelain to steel bathtubs. Durant bought Buick’s car, formed GM and then purchased the Oldsmobile brand later in 1908. In 1909, Durant gained control of Cadillac, Elmore and Oakland (Pontiac), lost control of GM in 1910 and exited, and then in 912 the Elmore was removed as a car offering. Durant’s exit from GM in 1910 came under extreme debt pressure and a depression in car sales.
Not to be outdone and showing excellent business savvy, Durant regained control of GM in 1915 after secretly buying Chevrolet from Gaston and Louis Chevrolet. He completely re-organizing GM in 1916 but in 1920, Durant again lost control of GM via share holder option rights, and this time was unable to regain control.
Still, Durant’s efforts formed the multi-brand company we know today, and he’s considered a genius by everyone in the car industry for his undaunted efforts. After losing millions in the 1929 stock market crash, Durant filed for personal bankruptcy and ended up running a bowling alley in Detroit. He suffered a stroke in 1942, recovered, and then died in 1947. He pretty much lived on a $10,000 a year pension from GM during his later years.
Back to Buick and Pontiac.
Along with Durant ‘s legend and Buick’s history, this is perhaps the top non-China sales reasons for Buick’s survival over Pontiac, the latter an exciting brand with its own legend. Oakland was GM’s mid-level car brand built from 1907–1909 in, not surprising, Pontiac, MI. by Oakland car Company. Oakland’s former name as horse drawn carriage was the “Pontiac Buggy.”
When GM acquired Oakland in 1909, it produced Oakland cars until 1931, when it suspended the brand. However, an Oakland “Pontiac” arrived in 1926, which was smaller and lighter than the full size Oakland.
After the Oakland discontinuation,. Pontiac survived as a “companion brand” to Chevrolet. By the late 1950s, Pontiac became the performance division of General Motors, and did well in both drag racing and NASCAR.
In April of 2009, GM announced it would discontinue Pontiacs by the end of 2010 and focus on four brands North America: Chevy, Buick, Cadillac and GMC. The last Pontiacs were built in early 2010 and Pontiac dealer franchises expired in October of 2010.
There you are Larry. In a nutshell, Buick is the cornerstone of GM and has the honor of being the oldest active American marque of automobile to this day. Thanks for your letter.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now, BestRide.com and other GateHouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions on auto nostalgia, collector cars and auto racing at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org