- June 26, 2000
- Reaction score
- City, State
- Atlanta, GA
- Year, Model & Trim Level
- 2013 GLI, 2013 Escape
The Pontiac Aztek: GM Stumbles Again
By Jerry Flint
26 January 2001
The past weekend I drove General Motors' Pontiac Aztek for the first time. My wife Kate and I put in around 300 miles on this sport utility vehicle. The Aztek was last year's automotive flop.
At the time it was launched last summer, management boldly predicted it would sell 70,000 Azteks a year. Since then GM (NYSE: GM) has repeatedly scaled back its forecasts. The last I heard they were talking about 50,000 units, but I think the total this year will be closer to 25,000.
In the first five months of its life, through last December--a year in which the industry sold 17.4 million vehicles--only 11,201 Azteks were ``sold.'' I wouldn't be surprised if there was some air even in that dismal number.
For comparison, Ford Motor (NYSE: F) bought out its Escape SUV around the same time and sold 42,635 through the end of last year. Mazda is selling a version of the Escape called the Tribute. With only 750 dealers, Mazda moved 21,048 Tributes. In comparison, Pontiac has 2,800 dealers.
The Aztek is so bad that after less than a half year on the market, GM says it will rush out some design fixes next year--something that is unheard of today. GM won't be able to do much with the sheet metal but will noodle with things like the lights, bumpers and trim.
Here's the funny thing: The Aztek is not bad. Its old 3.4-liter GM V-6 engine isn't very exciting, but it's reliable. The Aztek is built off a minivan platform rather than a truck frame, so it rides smoothly. Handling is, well, fair. Like many SUVs, it is a high, ungainly vehicle. I wouldn't go around a corner fast.
The Aztek has lots of nifty features. Example: an insulated portable drink cooler--it holds 12 cans--that doubles as center console between the driver and passenger seats. For campers, an optional tent is available that hangs off the rear end. Other neat options: a pullout cargo and an automatic level-control system.
So what's the trouble?
Ugliness is one problem. The Aztek has a hideous front end and a huge, angular rear end. Most people think the Aztek flopped because of its ugliness.
I'm not sure that's right. I can think of a couple of other reasons. One is price. In fact, Ron Zarrella, president of GM's North American operations, now says he thinks the Aztek is too expensive. Chalk up another failure for targeted brand marketing.
Well, the list price is $22,000 for the base model and $25,000 for the GT. But this can be optioned out heavily. The loaded version I drove had a sticker price of $27,695. That's nearly $28,000 before sales tax. Put a discount on it and it's still $27,000.
GM marketed the Aztek as if teenagers were going to buy it. But let's face it: lots of kids don't have $27,000, and this just isn't the type of vehicle daddy would buy for his daughter going off to the University of Michigan.
Understand the $28,000 version I drove didn't have all-wheel drive (AWD), a feature that has just become available. With AWD, the Aztek GT would cost about $30,000. So GM teases people with $22,000 and scares them off with $30,000.
But that's not the biggest problem. When they brought Aztek out, the AWD wasn't ready, so GM launched the vehicle and sold it for five months without AWD. This might work in places such as California and Texas, where there's rarely snow or ice. But I think this omission cost the Aztek half its potential sales. Even worse, the vehicle is now labeled a loser, a label that's practically impossible to change.
Once again, GM blows a crucial launch. This worries me.
General Motors has a nice array of SUVs coming this spring. Chevrolet, GMC and, ironically, Oldsmobile are getting a regular-sized SUV with a powerful straight six engine. Buick is getting the Rendezvous, a SUV also built off the minivan platform--but as pretty as the Aztek is ugly.
All these should be successes, but I keep wondering what GM will do wrong this time.