Beefing Up at the Wrong Time

By: Anthony Fontanelle

Pontiac intends to beef up performance; this is why the automaker will be unveiling two new rear-wheel drive powerhouses at next week's New York International Auto Show. But experts say the beefing up was made at the wrong time.

Amid rising gasoline prices and the intensifying global warming issues, shoppers' appetite for gas-guzzlers are curtailed. Timing couldn't be worse.

At the New York show, Pontiac will showcase the 2009 G8 GXP featuring the new 6.2-liter small-block V-8 engine generating 402 horsepower. According to the automaker, the G8 GXP sedan, set to go on sale this year, will be able to go from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. The new sedan is also equipped with a specially tuned suspension and an optional new six-speed manual transmission.

Aside from the performance sedan, the automaker will also introduce the 2010 Pontiac G8 sport truck, a two-seater built on the G8 platform with a 73-inch cargo bed. The sport truck, which will arrive in dealerships late next year, has the same 361-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 used in the G8 GT sedan.

"There's simply nothing else like the G8 sport truck on the road today, and we definitely believe that there are customers who will be excited by its distinctive design, performance and cargo capabilities," said Jim Bunnell, general manager of Pontiac, Buick and GMC.

Pontiac, the struggling brand of General Motors Corp., is freeing its high-performance G8 family to bang sales doldrums and to repair its image. But the new corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) standards could hinder the plans.

Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst at Global Insight, now considers the maker of the most at-risk of General Motors' brands. "The renaissance was on the books, but it's basically been thrown into confusion with the new CAFE rules," Bragman told MSNBC. "The future depends on what they can do with Pontiac. Can they make it a four-cylinder, turbocharged brand, or are Americans so set on it being the rumbly, rear-wheel-drive V-8 division that anything else is not going to fly?"

Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said Pontiac's return to its performance roots is a positive step, but years of lukewarm vehicles have made the brand irrelevant to many consumers. "They're on the brink of either great success or marginalization," he added.

"Pontiac has always been about style and performance. There have certainly been times that we've fulfilled that mission better than others," Nerad concluded. "We're again getting the vehicles that fulfill that mission very clearly."

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