Monday, April 27, 2009

How the mighty fall

I read the news from General Motors yesterday, that they are discontinuing their Pontiac line from next year, with some sadness.

I grew up in the days when what was good for GM, was good for America. The best selling business book was, of course, "On a clear day, you can see General Motors". Any aspiring MBA graduate could reel off the famous five of GM - Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. Every Hollywood movie of those days had one these beauties as a star character. GM was, after all, the largest company in the world.

Those days, mass communication was still at its infancy. The internet had not arrived. Doordarshan had just made its tentative steps in India (with such wonderfully stimulating programs such as Krishidarshan). Yet all of us had known a lot about GM, even without stepping outside India and only seeing Ambassadors on Indian roads.

Pontiac is 83 years old. It was introduced when Alfred P Sloan was the legendary chairman of GM. Its heydays were the 60s and 70s. Pontiac models such as GTO, Firebird, Grand Am, Grand Prix and Trans Am were household names a generation ago. GTO was even immortalised in a song in 1964 which hit the charts. The American love affair with the car was at its peak (not that it has gone away now). And Pontiac and GM were heroes.

The story after that is all too well known. A long decline started and GM slipped. And slipped and slipped and slipped. Pontiac slipped along with it. If today's generation were asked to reel off the top five car brands that come to their mind, Pontiac is highly unlikely to feature. Pontiac who ? what ?

Pontiac is a grand old lady, whose best days are long gone. It is time for it to approach its Maker. But for some people at least, it will mean the passing of an era. Of a world that's gone and will never come back. Its OK to wipe a tear.

Pontiac RIP.