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Small Car, Huge Mission: GM hoping Solstice will spark Pontiac revival, be an example for automaker
RICHARD TRUETT | Automotive News
Posted Date: 8/16/05
DETROIT - The just-launched Pontiac Solstice roadster has a lot riding on its pumped-up shoulders.

General Motors Vice Chairman Robert Lutz expects the $20,000 roadster to kick-start the much-needed rejuvenation of Pontiac. And, he says, GM must create more cars like the Solstice if the company is going to reduce incentives and rebuild market share.

John Larson, general manager of the Pontiac, Buick and GMC divisions, thinks the Solstice will be a milestone car for GM. "We believe this vehicle has the potential to become a complete automotive icon, like the GTO or Corvette," he says.

That's a huge responsibility for a small car to carry, but the buzz from early buyers suggests it may be justified.

GM invited buyers of the first 1,000 Solstices to Detroit on Aug. 5 for a kickoff party that saw the first Solstice delivered to a middle-aged couple from Idaho. All 1,000 buyers chose the Solstice on looks and price alone, without the benefit of a test drive or even seeing one up close, in the metal.

Many said they hadn't owned a GM vehicle in years.

Nick Fuduloff, 45, a firefighter from Pennsylvania who drives a Nissan SUV and a Toyota sedan, said he had never before bought a car without taking it for a test drive. But he isn't worried about quality issues with the Solstice, he said.

"It seems like they took their time on it," Fuduloff said.

Jeff Maki, 40, a chemist from Grand Rapids, Mich., said: "As soon as I saw it, I fell in love with it. I went to the dealer in November and put my name on a list."

Holly Johnson, 46, a registered nurse from Pennsylvania, plans to park her Toyota Avalon and keep it as a second car when she takes delivery of her Solstice. Before the GM event, she had never sat in a Solstice.

"It fits!" she shrieked after settling into the driver's seat of a silver Solstice on display in the lobby of the GM headquarters building.

"I think the quality will be good. The last GM car I had was a good one," she said.

The Solstice is the first car of its type from GM. No other GM division has ever built a two-seat, four-cylinder, rear-drive convertible.

Speaking to the crowd at the launch event, Larson said GM officials have been paying close attention to what potential customers were saying about the Solstice.

"There's been an emotional connection between Pontiac and the customer that is unique to this vehicle," he said. "We intend to keep that relationship just the way it is and grow it even further."

GM is trying to whittle down a backlog of nearly 10,000 orders for the car. Pontiac spokesman Jim Hopson said GM expects to have those orders filled by December.

GM officials would not say how many Solstices are being built daily at the company's Wilmington, Del., plant. But according to the Automotive News Data Center, the plant turned out only 330 units in July.

To fill the order backlog, the plant will have to crank out an average of 2,000 cars a month until the end of the year. Pontiac plans to build about 20,000 Solstices in 2006.

eBay Solstice index: Warmish

If you've got a Pontiac Solstice to sell and are trolling for suckers, don't spend those windfall profits yet. Early results on eBay suggest people so far aren't willing to pay crazy money for the sleek two-seater.

Unlike the Ford Mustang GT, which still fetches $2,000-plus over sticker, a few Solstices on the Web site were drawing premiums of about $750 over the sticker price of $19,995.

Someone in Missouri was trying to sell the 130th Solstice built for $40,000. No takers.

It will take awhile for the market to shake out. And the Solstice will be far more difficult for Pontiac dealers to come up with than, say, an Aztek. General Motors says it has 10,000 orders in hand -- about the same number it plans to produce by year end.
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