http://www.mysanantonio.com/business/stories/MYSA072405.1F.Pontiac.110547.htmlPontiac's new G6 sedan just might be the best-kept secret in the auto industry this year.
Arguably one of the best midsize sedans on the market and a potentially formidable competitor to the best-selling Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the G6 debuted this past fall as the replacement for the long-running Grand Am.
Despite a much-publicized event in which General Motors gave away 276 of the cars to the studio audience at an Oprah Winfrey TV show in September, the G6 has largely gone unnoticed by the car-buying public — even though by Pontiac standards it's nearly a runaway best-seller.
Sales are on track to total more than 100,000 units in the car's very first year, but that's still far below the 300,000-plus sold of each of the midsize segment leaders, the Camry and the Accord.
Some industry observers blame GM for a lackluster advertising campaign for the cars, while others say that Pontiac cars just aren't on many consumers' radar screens, having been allowed to languish over the past several years as the giant automaker focused more on trucks. Pontiac is paired with GMC Truck in the GM bureaucracy, and with that arrangement, Pontiac doesn't get many truck products bearing its name.
For dealers, it's not a big problem, as most carry Pontiac and GMC vehicles in the same showrooms.
But for the Pontiac brand itself, having mostly cars has worked to limit the brand's appeal when most consumers are looking for sport utility vehicles or pickups.
People do still buy plenty of cars, however, a fact underscored by Toyota's and Honda's continuing ability to sell so many of their midsize Camry and Accords each year.
Consumers who take the time to test-drive a new G6 — especially after trying an Accord or Camry, or both — often find the G6 much more appealing, dealers say. But getting customers into showrooms in sufficient numbers to try the G6 before buying a Camry or Accord is Pontiac's biggest problem.
"We believe we're making great progress, but we have a long way to go" to match Toyota's and Honda's popularity with American consumers, Pontiac marketing director Mark-Hans Richer said.
But the G6 is a great success already, considering that since launch last fall until now, it has been sold only in one form — a sedan with a 200-horsepower V-6 engine, he said.
"Comparing sales of the G6 to comparable models of last year's Grand Am, retail sales are up 75 percent through June," Richer said.
In fact, the G6 became Pontiac's best-selling car within weeks of arriving at dealerships.
"There has been a lot of misinformation about the G6," he said. "Beside sales being up significantly over Grand Am, we're getting $5,000 more per unit than we did with Grand Am — after incentives. We have 75 percent fewer rental-fleet sales, which is a good thing, and our average buyer's age, in the low 40s, is three years younger than the average in the midsize segment.
"The truth is we are selling more and doing much better with this car than with the Grand Am."
And those sales will be going much higher with variants of the G6 that are on their way, Richer said.
"We began building the four-cylinder models this month, and we are rolling out the G6 coupe to dealers as we speak," he said. "We're starting production of the 3.9-liter V-6 performance models now as well, and they will begin arriving at dealers in a few weeks."
But that's not all. In six months, Pontiac will introduce a G6 convertible with a retractable hardtop.
"So far, we've just had the one V-6 model, but there are many more chapters to write in the G6 story," he said." Even so, we're very thrilled with Chapter One.
"This car is a really great success — owners we talk to are thrilled with it. Our dealers are happy and say they just need to add more variations to the mix. We're doing that as we speak," Richer said.
The industry weekly Automotive News reported last week that Pontiac showed lackluster performance in June as GM's overall sales spiked 47 percent during the company's "employee discount for everyone" promotion.
But the article failed to mention that G6 sales did not rise significantly under that program because dealers have mostly 2006 models in inventory now, Richer said. The employee discounts are limited to 2005 models.
"We had an early model-year changeover, so those discounts didn't apply to most of the G6s in dealer showrooms," he said.
Still, dealers who had leftover '05 models cleared many of them out with the employee discounts.
"We sold out of the G6 last month because of the discounts," said Guy Sensiba, sales manager for Cavender Buick-Pontiac-GMC-Suzuki on U.S. 281 North. "Selling prices started at $16,000 with the discounts for a V-6 G6, while you could barely get a Japanese midsize sedan with a four-cylinder engine for that price."
San Antonio dealers say they're getting the same response from customers that Pontiac is seeing nationwide — those who take the time to check out the G6 usually end up buying it over an Accord or Camry.
"What we've seen is that customers who come in and drive it, love it," Sensiba said. "They say there is a lot of content for the money, giving them a good value. But it's also just a fun car to drive. It's a very good-performing automobile."
Some popular options have helped boost G6 sales as well — such as adjustable pedals and remote engine starting, Sensiba said.
"And it gets 30 mpg on the highway — with a V-6 engine," he said. With gasoline prices continuing to climb, the G6's fuel economy is a great selling point, he said.
Quality is not an issue with the G6 either, Richer said. GM products rank at the top along with the Japanese brands in recent J.D. Power surveys.
The G6 even beat the competition in Strategic Vision's 2005 Total Quality awards, Richer said.
"The car won in its category over Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda in just its first year," he said. "We're right there at the top in initial quality."
Besides variants of the G6 on their way to market, Pontiac has two other products coming later this year that dealers are excited about.
They are the Solstice, a two-seat, open-top roadster; and the Torrent, a compact SUV to compete against the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
"We're seeing tons of interest in the Solstice, and already have a bunch of orders for it," Sensiba said.
"We should see the first ones in late October or early November, with production ramping up by January. They start at $19,995 plus options, which is lower than the Mazda Miata."
The two-seater, in the same vein as a Miata, comes with a 177-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The Torrent, based on the Chevrolet Equinox, is due in showrooms in October, and essentially replaces the discontinued, gawky-looking Aztek sport-utility wagon that never did well for Pontiac.