Home » The Pontiac Aztek Was Not A Design Tragedy, It Was A Corporate Tragedy.

The Pontiac Aztek Was Not A Design Tragedy, It Was A Corporate Tragedy.

Dann Good Design Pontiac Aztec Ts2
ADVERTISEMENT

My God, redemption arcs are tedious. For the terminally online, they’re a convenient way to cook up a medium-warm take that’s only novel if you weren’t paying attention the first time around. Live long enough in the popular automotive consciousness and it’s only a matter of time before a reappraisal comes your way. A car that stubbornly refuses rehabilitation with the grim vigor of a career criminal is the Pontiac Aztek; a car so ham-fisted in its execution it became a metaphor for the clownshow that was pre-bankruptcy GM. Pour a stiff drink, it’s time for Damn Good Design.

Car design is a whole process, from conception to production. It isn’t just about creating the exterior appearance of a vehicle — that’s the glamorous rock-n-roll part that captures the imagination and leads to turtle-necked think pieces in glossy magazines. The mundane reality is that after the flashy sketches are done and the clay models start being milled comes the long and tedious process of shepherding your design unscathed through various corporate, engineering, and marketing minefields and onto the showroom floor without it being irrevocably ruined. How successful you are in this Sisyphean endeavor will depend on a multitude of factors, including but not limited to: the original brief, the resources available to you in terms of time, manpower and platform, and the importance your company places on design – because despite what flashy PR videos full of nonsensical word salads and good looking young designers doing sketches on fucking panes of glass or some shit might proclaim, not all OEMs value the design process in the same way.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

OEMs that prioritize design will put the chief designer near the top of the corporate hierarchy: Peter Schreyer is now chief design officer for the whole Hyundai Group, including Kia and Genesis. Gerry McGovern is Chief Creative Officer of Jaguar Land Rover. Adrian van Hooydonk is BMW Group Design Director, with responsibility for BMW, Rolls Royce and Mini. Whether you like their work or not, having figureheads like these is important to defend and protect your designs from outside interference as they progress through the corporate meat grinder, even if their actual role is more akin to tastemaker and editor of other peoples work. This context is important to fully understand exactly what happened with the Aztek.

Pontiac Was In Love With The Idea Of A Do-it-all All Vehicle

From my perspective as a professional car designer who was alive at the time, the Aztek didn’t face problems in the marketplace because it was an idea ahead of its time and customers weren’t ready. Being first to market in a new segment isn’t a barrier to success if the product is compelling enough. It wasn’t because it was badly built or unreliable – the quality wasn’t exactly peak Mercedes, but it was no worse than other GM products at the time and it sat on proven mechanicals. The Aztek’s problems arose from the corporate environment that managed its development, the cynical way it was marketed, and mainly its customer-repelling appearance.

Stinger
1989 Pontiac Stinger Concept

Pontiac had been toying with the idea of a vehicle for young people with an ‘active lifestyle’ long before the Aztek. In 1989 they debuted the Stinger Concept – a sort of modern dune buggy with two doors, four seats and all manner of built-in vanlife-nonsense. Watch the promo video, and the amount of plastic crap packed into the thing is mind-boggling. From a handheld vacuum cleaner to a gas station counter mini-tool kit, removable seating AND sound system, a stove and everything in between — all the essentials for making the lives of beautiful people easier whose jobs were presumably just beach. The designers didn’t know when to stop – the only thing it didn’t have was an actual kitchen sink.

ADVERTISEMENT

The period-cheesy video above from an old MotorTrend TV episode is fascinating, in no small part because Pontiac designer Terry Henline lays out specifically what the brief was. Designers were told to create an:  “interesting and innovative small family vehicle that would be particularly suited to the west coast markets.” In 1992, designers came up with the Salsa, a small, bright pink front wheel drive car that had a removable rear canopy and an extendable rear section allowing it to transform from a small wagon, into a targa topped roadster and a mini truck. Both the Stinger and the Salsa were products of GM’s Advance Concept Center in California, and although a feasibility mule for the Salsa was reportedly built according to MotorTrend, neither made production.

A single car that can be adapted for a variety of roles is an endearing idea that frequently captures the imaginations of automotive design students, and occasionally OEMs themselves. Bodywork that can be reconfigured for different use scenarios sounds like it should be a panacea to efficiency and consumption issues. As anyone who has had to store a hard top for their convertible will tell you, the reality is different. You need space to store the bits you’re not using, and making the body structure modular introduces openings that must be sealed, and connection points that will give Noise, Vibration and Harshness engineers sleepless nights.

GM wanted 40% Of Vehicles To Be Innovative

The Aztek avoided these pitfalls by having all its versatility on the inside. According to this critical look into Aztek development from auto industry legend Bob Lutz, at the time Rick Wagoner and the GM management board stated that 40% of the new cars they made had to be “innovative.” How you measure the exact amount of innovation a product contains is a mystery but this type of meaningless target-driven management was endemic in how the corporation developed cars at the time.

Wagoner was not a product person. He had risen through GM’s ranks on the financial side of the business. John Smale, the then GM chairman decided what the company needed was what had worked at his previous company, Nabisco – give the customers what they want. And what the market research GM told them was that customers wanted something edgy, different and sexy. Something a bit alternative – nothing like the bland-mobiles GM was peddling at the time.

ADVERTISEMENT
Screenshot 2023 11 20 132555
1999 Pontiac Aztek Concept. Screenshot via Big Car (Youtube)
Screenshot 2023 11 20 132453
1999 Pontiac Aztek Concept. Screenshot via Big Car (Youtube).
Screenshot 2023 11 20 132652
Ugh, I’m going to need a cold beer from the center-mounted cooler. 2000 Pontiac Aztek production model. Screenshot via Big Car (Youtube).

Back out at the Advance Concept Center in California, exterior chief designer Tom Peters picked up a yellow and black North Face jacket (an obscure brand at the time) for his team to use as inspiration for a car that “took a Camaro and a Blazer and put them in a blender” — something that would combine the handling of the former and the flexibility of the latter.

Designer Brigid O’Kane drew some sketches of an aggressive, athletic, higher-riding car – what was to become project Bear Claw, the genesis of the Aztek concept. Peters described it as being “an AWD, sporty vehicle that could carry a fair amount of gear, as well as people.” He goes on to say “the initial ‘Bear Claw’ Aztek concept was based on an S-series full-frame platform with four-wheel drive, an off-road wheel/tire package and an aggressively styled body featuring big flared wheel arches, a low roof and a wide track.”

Shamelessly aimed at the nebulous idea of a Californian Generation X customer who wore neon and Lycra, when the concept Aztek was shown in 1999 it was not entirely without charm and quite well received. What GM didn’t mention was that it had already been greenlit for production, but with a significant compromise that doomed it before a tooling head hit the first clay.

An Expensive Car On A Cheap Platform

To save money and increase profit margin, GM management decided the production Aztek would be based on the U platform that underpinned their minivans. This forced the base of the windshield up, the track to be narrowed, ruining the combination of visual cues that were meant to be its USP (unique selling point). Worse still, when it was launched in early 2000, the Versa Trak AWD system wasn’t ready, so despite appearances, the Aztek was going nowhere off-road. And it was expensive; if you wanted all the attachments, you were paying for them – an optioned-up Aztek GT was getting on for $30k (about $50k today).

Aztekf3q
Image via Bring a Trailer

The problem with how the Aztek looks on a most basic level is the proportions are wrong, and the detailing is poor. The Aztek is stretched in the Z axis (up and down), because using a minivan platform compromised the height of the cowl, one of the hardpoints that could not have been altered.

ADVERTISEMENT

Because headlights are too low it looks a bit like an anteater. Lowering the rear of the hood where it meets the windshield so it doesn’t dive so aggressively and moving the lights up in Z would help avoid this sloping face look but would mean exposing the wipers which is probably what the designers were trying to avoid. I think this would have been a compromise worth making.

Azteksideannotated
Image via Bring a Trailer

From the side you can see the lower line of the Daylight Opening (DLO — the side windows) is below the level of the cowl (the base of the windshield) – this is to help reduce the height of the bodyside, but the glaring issue is the bottom of the third side window is lower still – it doesn’t line up with the rest of the glazing. It looks like a third side window from a totally different car. It’s amateurish and the side view makes the rear look tail heavy.

Aztekr3qannotated
Image via Bring a Trailer

The way to avoid this ‘full diaper syndrome’ at the back is to kick up the lower bodywork aggressively – which helps increase your departure angle as well. The Aztek has entirely too much bulk down low – everything below the lower split line in the cladding needs to go. At the back, there’s a weird shelf cut-out in the lower bumper which looks like it’s there to support the bottom half of the tailgate in the dropped position.

I get why this was done – to keep the loading lip low and give you somewhere to sit with the tailgate open, something that featured heavily in the marketing. But it looks horrible and juts out like an underbite. Bin the whole thing and find a more elegant solution – stronger straps so the tailgate doesn’t need support from underneath.  The main source of pain in the rear three-quarter view is the Quasimodo not-quite-a-hatch-not-quite-a-wagon profile. Aligning the bottom of the taillights with the bodyside feature line would help visually lighten the back of the car, and as a happy side effect, it pulls up the split line in the tailgate, making that look better balanced.

Aztek1
Look mom, I can go off-road! Image via Netcarshow

One of the first things Pontiac changed when they emergency facelifted the car shortly after going on sale was to paint the lower cladding body color. This was exactly the wrong thing to do. The Aztek is bottom heavy – you want to hide the lower half of the car, not tie it in visually to the rest of the bodywork. The issue isn’t with the cladding – it’s doing a lot of work visually reducing the height. It’s the typical GM penny-pinching way they did it. At the leading edges of the doors you can see there are cutouts in the grey plastic to allow the doors to open. But you can see body-colored metal behind them, which looks cheap and unfinished. A few cents of grey paint here would have solved this issue.

ADVERTISEMENT

There’s a lot of wheel arch gap around the tires, so there is some room to put bigger wheels on the wretched thing. Would it really have killed them? Stance, or how a car sits on its wheels is vital in creating a good first impression. The Aztek is like an extremely tall person with small feet – unbalanced, top heavy and ready to topple over. Keeping the wheels in proportion to rest of the body is key to not looking underwhelmed – the Hyundai Ioniq 5 gives the impression in images of being a compact family hatch but in reality is over 4.6 meters (182”) long – because the wheels are scaled up appropriately.

The GM Vice President Of Design Doesn’t Get A Photo

The question you might rightly be asking is: If I can see what’s wrong with the Aztek, how come no one else could? GM knew the Aztek was a stinker, but they didn’t want to listen. Despite being beholden to customer clinics and marketing research in the past, GM was so desperate to show they were an innovative company they were suddenly gripped by reactive schizophrenia. Even worse, GM simply ignored negative reactions and customer research:

Again, from the Lutz piece above:

The guy in charge of product development was Don Hackworth, an old-school guy from the tradition of shouts, browbeating, and by-God-I-want-it-done. He said, “Look. We’ve all made up our minds that the Aztek is gonna be a winner. It’s gonna astound the world. I don’t want any negative comments about this vehicle. None. Anybody who has bad opinions about it, I want them off the team.” As if the public is gonna give a sh** about team spirit.

Because the Aztek had hit every internal measurable internal metric, they convinced themselves it would be a winner, and were not willing to hear any dissent from inside the company that told them otherwise.

In the past, previous GM Vice Presidents of Design like Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell held a lot of power to influence product decisions. GM management absolutely hated this, and after Mitchell retired the board made sure to keep the Tech Center on a much tighter leash.

ADVERTISEMENT

The current VP of GM Design Michael Simcoe doesn’t even get a headshot on the company leadership page. The tragedy of the Aztek is that somewhere in there was a half-decent car trying to get out – but it was buried under a series of poor management decisions. Instead, it became a poster child for the failings of old GM, a market failure which with a bit more thought and careful development could have been a market pioneer. Good, or indeed bad design never springs from the sketchpad fully formed. It’s always influenced by factors outside the studio – the trick is knowing what to take into consideration and what to ignore.

Relatedbar

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
180 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
6 months ago

I think it looks better without the cladding/with the lower body painted, but agree it wasn’t really what they needed to do and maybe it’s because of the other miscellaneous design details. But that was right at the start of Lutz’s DIY car makeover ripping off the ribbed cladding on all the Pontiacs so it was bound to happen anyway.

I have wondered how it might have fared had it been put on a different platform, like the Theta platform that came a couple years later under the Saturn VUE. That might have given it chance at being closer to the intent of the concept rather than the minivan base that gave it its versatility but also the proportions.

And perhaps cheaper, because even if it looked different, I don’t know if it would have fared that much better saleswise for the price. For a near-$30k SUV at the time, it was becoming the expectation to have a 3rd row available, so that took out a faction of family buyers. For others like DINKs/empty nesters, the marketing didn’t hold much appeal. The Rendezvous wasn’t the prettiest either and had many of the same gadgets, but offered a 3rd row and simply the marketing matched the buyer better.

And Ford rolled out the Escape at the same time which although a different segment, probably didn’t help either. I remember magazines having both in the same issue and the Escape/Tribute were widely praised for its packaging and refinement for its segment at the time.

MrLM002
MrLM002
6 months ago

The Aztec, just one more thing killed by a collective (in this case a committee).

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
6 months ago

These stories remind me of when the early-90s Chevy Caprice debuted. The blobby design was widely panned, and GM reacted defensively, saying something like “Everyone in the company likes it, what’s wrong with all of you?”

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
6 months ago
Reply to  Adam Rice

Besides, how much do you really need to invest in design when your customers are either octogenarians or police departments?

TJ Heiser
TJ Heiser
6 months ago

The Buick Rendezvous – corporate twin of the Aztek – looked better. It still had the odd proportions, but it hid them better in a less flamboyantly ugly way.

World24
World24
6 months ago
Reply to  TJ Heiser

Besides the one my mom had when I was just some child/pre-teen, I’ve really only ever seen the Rendezvous out in public. It’s definitely better looking, but maybe not as comfortable…. if the Aztek even is.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
6 months ago
Reply to  TJ Heiser

Don’t forget the Olds Silhouette, the “Cadillac of Minivans”!

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
6 months ago

The only winning move was to replace it with the Vibe, which was made by Toyota 🙂

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
6 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

The Vibe did not replace it as they were much differently sized vehicles.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
6 months ago

The obvious solution staring me in the face is to use the platform and cowl height of the W-body sedan rather than the minivan. Ameliorating it being *too* low and wide and thus perceived as a station wagon would be an easier design challenge than visually lowering the tall, narrow minivan base (GM’s was especially narrow since it was intended for Europe as well as America).

Mthew_M
Mthew_M
6 months ago
Reply to  Nlpnt

The front end of the 2nd (and 3rd) gen vans is already very heavily based on the W-body, suspension wise. If only GM had made a W-body wagon, they could have given it the ‘Outback/Cross Country’ treatment and made the styling a little more ‘extreme’ to satisfy their ‘innovation’. You’re right, would have had much better proportions than the dowdy, dated U-body platform.

Madewithgenuineparts
Madewithgenuineparts
5 months ago
Reply to  Mthew_M

Or they could have simply imported the Adventra (lifted Commodore wagon, available at times with a 3800, High Feature 3.6 V6, or LS1!) to sell alongside the GTO, and maybe the Commodore sedans instead of the Grand Prix?

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
6 months ago

I remember when the Stinger concept came out. I want one of those even more now!

Evan Shealy
Evan Shealy
6 months ago

In 2003 GM built an Aztek for the Woodward dream cruise. Lowered, big tires and a hot LS-1. Definitely fixed most of the ungainly appearance.

Millermatic
Millermatic
6 months ago

I loved the Stinger as a new teen driver. The Aztec? Barf.

Clark B
Clark B
6 months ago

I used to think the Aztec was the ugliest car ever made. But then, I remembered its platform mate, the Buick Rendezvous, which might be my least favorite car ever. At least the Aztec was different and trying to create a new market segment. The Buick just looks like clinical depression on wheels.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
6 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

The Buick sold better, though, since it wasn’t quite as lumpy and had a 3rd-row seat.

Styling aside the Aztek was an odd tweener in the Buick-Pontiac-GMC SUV/crossover lineup, with little added appeal over the much smaller and cheaper Vibe.

Citrus
Citrus
6 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

To be mildly fair to the Buick, it was trying to create a new market the same as the Aztek was, they were both pretty early in the CUV game.

I also really liked how it was a mildly distinctive shoe because it was one of those cars where you know the driver probably has one foot in the grave and one on a banana peel. It’s always good when you can easily spot the drivers whose grandkids are trying to figure out how to take their license.

D-dub
D-dub
6 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

The Aztec was the ugliest car ever made until the 4th generation Prius showed up.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
6 months ago
Reply to  D-dub

You misspelled 1st gen Mirai.

D-dub
D-dub
6 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

illallowit.gif

Naterator
Naterator
6 months ago

GM itself it a corporate tragedy. They’re really good a learning not to learn.

Diane M
Diane M
6 months ago

I’ll say it with the others, the Aztek concept was a vehicle I really liked the idea and execution on, it could have been a bit prettier, but it was just on the good side of the line, the production model lost all of what I liked about the concept vehicle.

How it got from prototype to production is the greater sin, they neutered it in a way that just made everyone dislike it.

Marteau
Marteau
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

They used the design of the front on the ssangyong actyon, and it’s atrocious.

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Those are brilliant! I can’t believe those sketches turned into the Aztek!

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
6 months ago

Great stuff. It certainly seems like the original sin was switching platforms, but the fatal sin was a common design trap: sticking with the original sketch concept when the underlying parameters have utterly changed.

The truck-based Aztek was still a little out there, design-wise, and may not have translated well to production, but it was harmonious between the original design concept and the function. But once it was on a minivan platform, that design concept became an ill-fitted suit (not just the wrong size, but the wrong shape/cut), and, instead of a radical rethink, they tugged and stretched and patched until they ended at one of the all-time stinkers.

Church
Church
6 months ago

I’m not sure I can get behind the idea of “these windows are too big and should be made smaller” that is suggested here. Yes, they go lower than the cowl, but higher beltline is almost never the answer for me.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

I never noticed that before (was always too focused on jarring-to-my-eyes bottom to the beltline expanse I think) but now I can’t NOT see the third window…

Last edited 6 months ago by Jack Trade
Citrus
Citrus
6 months ago

Know what my biggest annoyance is with this car? No door over the gas lid. It makes it look like they didn’t care about the details and that it’s unfinished.

Last edited 6 months ago by Citrus
Church
Church
6 months ago
Reply to  Citrus

I think you are objectively right, but I think years of owning Jeep Wranglers had numbed me to the concept of putting doors over the filler, so I didn’t even register this.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
6 months ago
Reply to  Citrus

Come to think of it gas doors were a common focus for “accessorizing” and other details at the time. 3rd gen Mitsubishi Eclipse with the silver/alloy fuel door comes to mind, attempting to be racy. Now it’s one of those “no one asked for this” details that add nothing. Like fender vents about ~5-10 years later.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
6 months ago

“The main source of pain in the rear three-quarter view is the Quasimodo not-quite-a-hatch-not-quite-a-wagon profile.”

Yet it seems every SUX (sport utility crossover) manufacturer offers this exact configuration with less space and for more money than the wagon version.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

If your metric for “success” is sales to people with more money than taste, sure. Is there a single one that doesn’t SUX ass aesthetically? Seeing a X6 in the wild still makes me throw up in my mouth a bit.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

They are better if one is into that sort of thing. Of course as a fan of sliding doors I’m not exactly the bellweather of style.

Can we at least agree the 1st gen Mirai was awful?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

The Gen 2 was much better. If it was possible to easily swap that silly fuel cell for a proper ICE drive train and run it on CNG instead I’d consider thinking about looking into dreaming about doing that.

Back to BMW, why on God’s green earth did they make their cars look like giant naked mole rats?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

No, was it recent?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Thanks for the link. I had not seen that.

“what are the young people into?” Not being a young person I can’t say for sure but I’m pretty sure its NOT being seen driving around in a giant naked mole rat.

I disagree about the Jaguar though, the older 2009 retro look was quintessentially “Jaguar” whereas the newer 2010 looked IMO like a Ford Mondeo desperately trying to pass as an elite. Its doing as effective a job at that as the same generation Fusion did tarted up as a Lincoln.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Problem or no I wouldn’t have kicked one out of my garage. Especially not a XJR.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
6 months ago

I never thought the Aztec was that bad. I mean it’s ugly, but there’s no shortage of vehicles on sale today that are as ugly or uglier.

Disphenoidal
Disphenoidal
6 months ago

On the rare occasion that I see an Aztek on the road, I always think it’s not that bad. Presumably because all cars have become uglier.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
6 months ago

Design-wise, I’ve wondered: does doing wheel arches in a more squared-off fashion like this help or hurt an overall appearance of harmony, juxtaposed with round wheels?

It seems fairly common on SUVs and trucks, less on on cars.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
6 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I’ve always thought it was a weird move, but I think you’re right about the dichotomy. Seems like the squared-off arches were a leftover from the original truck-based concept.

V10omous
V10omous
6 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

That’s a GM tradition on their trucks.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
6 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

But interestingly, also sometimes on its cars – the final generation Chevy Lumina had this setup too. I’ve never been sure what to make of it.

V10omous
V10omous
6 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I never noticed that on the Lumina but yeah it is odd. I have never really cared for the look.

Idiotking
Idiotking
6 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Squared-off arches made the tiny car wheels look even more ridiculous than they needed to be. All it did was shout, “HEY LOOK I’M NOT A TRUCK AT ALL!”

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
6 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Seems like it’s more a GM thing than anything else. Silverado/Sierra/Suburban/Yukon have always had square wheel wells (though they have gotten more round over time) while Ford and Dodge/Ram competitors have been more round.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
6 months ago

I really appreciate your ability to analytically point to specific things and put into words how exceptionally ugly this thing is. I’ve always had this gut reaction that it’s just hideous and am so overwhelmed with that sensation that I’ve been unable to make a cogent explanation as to why.

Thank you for putting my soul at ease.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
6 months ago

I rather like weird stuff, but the Aztek always seemed messy or just off. So, I’m joining My Goat above in thanks for pointing out the particular bits that make it seem so. For example, that 3rd window bottom line not fitting makes perfect sense now.

Thanks for schooling us [thumbs up]

10001010
10001010
6 months ago

I remember seeing the concept at the Houston Auto Show and going back home talking about this cool new car coming called the Aztec and then a couple years later the actual car arrived and my buddies were like “That’s the cool new car you were talking about?”

I will never forgive GM!!!*

*Not really, I don’t really care

DadBod
DadBod
6 months ago

This is an awesome article, thanks [heart emoji][thumbsup emoji]

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
6 months ago

Great work, Uncle Goth! I wonder if the decision to move it from the S-10 to the minivan platform was tied to the development of the related Buick Rendezvous, which is its own funhouse of bad design choices.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
6 months ago

There’s a similar story behind the Austin Allegro – original design was a rather sleek wedge, then corporate dictates required using the existing A-Series engine, which meant a taller front end and made it all dumpy looking

Penny wise, dollar or pound foolish – save money on development costs, but ignore the sales volumes that good design brings in

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
6 months ago

GM may be the best company in the world at shooting themselves in the foot.

I drive a boring SUV
I drive a boring SUV
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

I’d like to read a feature going into detail about that!

I drive a boring SUV
I drive a boring SUV
6 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Oh, I understand. Maybe when you retire, like politicians, you can speak openly about former employers and colleagues 🙂 I really like the insight you provide.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
6 months ago

I wrote a long and rambling reply about my experience doing engineering for/at JLR, then I remembered lawyers exist and deleted it.

It’s a low point in my career.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
6 months ago
Reply to  Jim Stock

Six letters: O P E N A I

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
6 months ago
Reply to  SNL-LOL Jr

They are good but GM has a 100 year head start on them.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
6 months ago
Reply to  Jim Stock

Oh I’ve got a better one. That certain one-letter company.
They’re so good at it it’s not even shooting themselves in the foot. It’s like shoving the Tsar Bomba to where the Sun don’t shine then detonating it.

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
6 months ago

I liked that is could come with a tent. I disliked the sloped back and that it was a prize on the first survivor tv series (gimmicky). I do know some non-car people that liked the thing but overall the honda element was a better version of the Idea.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
6 months ago
Reply to  Jim Stock

Two thoughts on the Element comp:

  1. The Element shows that GM was on track with the (broad) concept. It wasn’t a huge hit or anything, but it sold and lasted a couple generations. Furthermore, the Aztek concept was sufficiently different that I think there’s a case that they wouldn’t have competed too directly—basically, the Element is the urban version while the Aztek is the outdoors version.
  2. GM was targeting Gen X, as was the Element, but as we know, the actual Element buyers were middle aged Boomers who wanted the practical function rather than the promoted lifestyle. I wonder whether a well-executed Aztek could have reached its intended audience (although probably not at that price point).
GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
6 months ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

I mentioned above I also wondered if the Aztek would have turned out better had it been based on a compact crossover chassis which GM also had in development at the time – more akin to the Element being derived from the CR-V.

On your second point – the price would definitely play in as you say. A 2003 Element EX was just a couple grand less than where Aztek started, but that gap grew when you added a couple options to an Aztek to equip them similarly – and then you could add even more options to an Aztek, which put it up against vehicles that were nicer or more powerful or sat more people for the money.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
5 months ago

Yeah, pre-bankruptcy GM was almost incapable of making appealing, cost-competitive cars. They could churn out Cavaliers that were cheap and hard to kill, but manifestly inferior to the imports, and Vettes succeeded in their own category, but any time they tried to make a nice product in a competitive market, it was fatally crappy, fatally overpriced, or both. There were occasional exceptions*, but they were pretty rare.

*I just wasted 10 minutes revisiting the Solstice. Car & Driver described it as essentially at parity with the Miata. It cost a little more, and the build quality & interior plastics were inferior, but I’d still call even that an exception—GM usually couldn’t come that close.

1 2 3
180
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x