To many enthusiasts, GM jumped the gun when it decided to keep GMC rather than Pontiac, and for good reason. After all, the only vehicles GMC had to offer were blatantly re-badged Chevrolet products, of which the GMC Sierra (Chevy Silverado) and the GMC Yukon (Chevy Tahoe) come to mind. The general consensus was that Pontiac’s trailblazing heritage and its relatively high sales volume was what GM needed to rescue, especially when considering that the brand appeared to have been making a comeback. But while it was sad to see Pontiac go — I became quite attached to the Pontiac G8 — I have to admit that the General made the right decision.
Let’s begin with the obvious. At the time of GM’s restructuring, Buick, Pontiac and GM shared the same dealerships. When it came time to cut brands, one or more of them had to go. Buick was safe by default because of it’s popularity in China. As an entry-level luxury brand in North America, Buick’s sales volumes are too small to warrant its own stand-alone dealerships. That said, the Tri-Shield clearly needed a high-volume cuddling-buddy in order to keep the angry dealers off GM’s back. As the larger of the two (volume-wise), Pontiac could have satisfied this requirement better than GMC. However, to mainstream buyers, the brand had lost the trailblazing heritage that once set it apart from the competition. Its vehicle lineup had become nothing more than a restyled Chevys. Moreover, the brand had come to symbolize everything that was wrong with GM — inefficient, low-quality and poorly-built vehicles. So although Pontiac sold a large number of vehicles — albeit at decreasing levels year after year — its long-term prospects looked bleak.
Now you’re thinking that the same can be said about GMC, but that isn’t really the case. The fact is that GMC “Professional Grade” positioning has given it, and especially its top-selling Sierra pickup, a bit of an old-school aura for precision engineering and ruggedness. That’s right — GMC has more or less escaped the poor reputation that plagued GM’s other brands. A good reputation makes it a lot easier to sustain and grow the brand, making it a more viable option than Pontiac. But more importantly, the potential and flexibility of GMC’s “Professional Grade” image holds a lot of promise. Specifically, I believe that the brand could become GM’s answer to Jeep.
I am proposing that GMC shift some of its attention away from the construction site towards the untamed wilderness. The brand already has a rugged, can-do image that can be easily translated to a potent off-road vehicle that can act as its flagship. This model would be reminiscent of the Jeep Wrangler or the HUMMER H3. That vehicle should have been the fittingly-named GMC Terrain, but alas, GM needed something softer in order to replace the lost sales from the terminated Pontiac Torrent. Although a good little crossover, the Terrain is a bit too soft mechanically for GMC’s brand image. Making matters worse, the diminutive GMC Granite will likely tarnish its image even further, assuming it is produced. That thing is practically a city car, and that is definitely a no-no for a GMC.
To compensate for the “softies” in its lineup (the people-hauling Acadia crossover included), GMC needs to build a highly competitive off-roader not just because it fits its image so well, but because it will do so much to enforce its strong reputation and goodwill, an essential element for its long-term success. Looking back, it seems GM never needed HUMMER; all it needed was GMC. It is just so unfortunate that the automaker has yet to realize the full potential of its Profession Grade marque. Let’s just hope it realizes it soon.