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
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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.

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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.

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Screenshot 2023 11 20 132555
1999 Pontiac Aztek Concept. Screenshot via Big Car (Youtube)
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1999 Pontiac Aztek Concept. Screenshot via Big Car (Youtube).
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Wpmaceri
Wpmaceri
7 months ago

By the time the early 70s rolled around GM felt they were entitled to their global level dominance without really working at it. Then in 1973 when the oil crisis hit, it was a wake-up call to all of the Big Three and for the first time Detroit had to compete with the foreign manufacturers that were already building fuel efficient cars, and now fuel efficient was the name of the game, and Detroit was totally out of the game. As the years rolled on, Detroit was scrambling to compete in the new game. Due to it’s size Chrysler was dangling by a string, Ford was large enough to weather the new market, but since cars design their model years at least 3 years in advance Ford was in the same sinking ship. GM’s large cars that just that, large. The best example of that is the mid-70s Cadillacs, they weren’t just big, they were big and boring, and yet GM did nothing about it. Over at Ford Motor Company, the cars were also big, but they were at least good looking, and they were also fairly reliable, plus Ford had their trucks which were bringing in revenue, also Lincoln was a much better car than it’s number one competitor, Cadillac. I would submit that Detroit never really recovered to pre-oil crisis status. I often speculate where Detroit would be if not for the 73 oil crisis. The Big Three had reached their controling levels which made them profitable back in the 50s and 60s, their cars were selling themselves for years when the only competition they faced were each other. Now, 50 plus years later, the competition today is at a global level shared with global competition, and that’s never going to change. More manufacturers, and a different level set from the past. There’s a new normal. I would submit that the new normal has become reality in many of the US industries that for years were the top global providers, and are now no longer. Some may say the global competition has made it a more of a level playing field, and only the strong survive. Admittedly, that may be how it should be, who can say. In any event it means a lot of industries that were once global providers must now go through major downsizing. That’s very hard to adjust to. One of the first industries to experience downsizing would be the US railroads, which needed government assistance to keep afloat. Railroads disappeared, thousands of jobs lost, but today with it’s new normal the railroads are the primary freight movers, while passenger trains exist on a very low level, tied to tourists.And just how the railroads built this country, they also caused many support businesses to also downsize. The railroads aren’t the only example. Another industry that is still adjusting to downsizing is the IT industry. Just as the railroads built the travel industry and all of its support businesses. IBM built the IT industry where there wasn’t anything, including a need for it, IBM is experiencing a world wide downsizing because the industry that it created is now filled with numerous competitors as well as multiple platforms available to customers that at one time IBM was the only provider. 30 years ago IBM employed over 500,000 people worldwide, today they employ around 350,000. IBM has had to reinvent it’s self to remain a top IT provider. IBM will never be the sole provider of IT solutions they way it once was, but make no mistake, there will always be an IBM living in it’s new normal. Another industry that is in transition is traditional retail. The internet is changing everything. As the world changes, people buy online, the traditional “brick and mortar footprint is decreasing in size everyday. There was a time, along time, that Sears was the top retail provider in the US. Everyone had the Sears Catalog in their homes. Today there a just a small number Sears Catalog stores around. Sears has struggled for years to become an online retailer, there is still a Sears website but it’s been a hard transition. There was a time when you could buy a car from the Sears Catalog. In the 80s Sears owned Caldwell Banker real estate company. I believe I’ve made the point. Everything is changing, and it always has been and will be going forward. I believe the auto industry will continue to evolve into something much different than what it once was. The unfortunate reality is that even though we know things will be changing, we can’t do anything to stop the painful transition period our businesses must go through I wonder what’s next.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
7 months ago
Reply to  Wpmaceri

what is a paragraph, for $500, Alex.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

Adrian: in addition to the execs you listed, I’d add Luc Donckerwolke, who’s a brilliant designer IMO and now President and CDO at Hyundai Motor Group.

Last edited 7 months ago by Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Karen Mackay
Karen Mackay
7 months ago

I absolutely love my 2003 Aztec! Bought it brand new and love it! love it! Lovvvvvveeee It!!!!! Awesome design ahead of its time!! Had a little engine problem in the beginning but the dealership drilled out the bolts and threaded them in! No problems since!! Love it!! People that didn’t like it was square and not realistic!!

Wpmaceri
Wpmaceri
7 months ago

I’m a total Big Three Gearhead, so I’m always thinking about çars. When the Aztec was launched I knew where to place the blame, and it wasn’t PMD. Pontiac was always known for building beautiful performance cars. In the mid-60s Pontiacs were the best-looking cars to ever come from Detroit. And if you look at the decisions that corporate GM was making you can see that even back then corporate GM had no idea how to build the right cars. GM was too big to know what the divisions were doing. GM’s 5 divisions controlled the market, and because there was less global competition so just because of it’s size GM lead the industry. The signs were already showing that GM was just in it for the profit, and their size allowed for bad decision making and yet still be profitable. That conti

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  Wpmaceri

Legit question:

> GM was just in it for the profit,

What else would they be in it for?

Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
7 months ago

I love these – well done Adrian!

Jim Stark
Jim Stark
7 months ago

“Classic” design!

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
7 months ago

Thank you for these insights. Particularly the third rear window treatment where its lower than the door glazing line.
A couple of my cars being the Toyota Tercel 4wd Estate and Corolla 4wd Estate from the late eighties decided to push the difference of window height into a design ‘feature’ (Tercel with the side badging inside the window as noted by JT).
I can not understand why Toyota would have made this design choice. Would you like to conjecture what was going on in the designers studio to make these choices in a very conservative company?
The corolla 4wd not only has a tiny rear window. The back section of the car beyond the C pillar looks like its from a van and the front from the Corolla sprinter of the time. The D pillar lights as well being 3 years ahead of Volvo. Its one of the strangest ugly/futuristic designs in an economy car that I’ve seen. Would like to know your thoughts.

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Thank you for your reply Adrian.
I imagine as both my examples came from adding a wagon / estate body to an existing hatch / sedan design they decided to emphasize the differences.

It was never going to blend seamlessly like a clean ground up wagon design such as the alfa 159 and Volvos etc. Japan preferring sedans and hatches generally and probably not designing the wagon till later.

We do something similar in Architecture where you may have two dissimilar design elements (like an existing heritage building and contemporary addition). Often using a shadowline detail or threshold / change in level etc to push the disparity in design.

JumboG
JumboG
7 months ago

Designer 1: ‘So let’s lower the rear of the hood, it’ll make the car look a lot better.’

Designer 2: ‘But the windshield wipers will be exposed!’

Every other person on the planet: ‘…and?’

SBMtbiker
SBMtbiker
7 months ago

What a well written article with tons of good insight!

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
7 months ago
Reply to  SBMtbiker

The only thing I would add is the intangible feeling from people that Pontiac quality kind of sucked. If it was from a Japanese automaker I think people would have been more receptive but Pontiac interiors were squeaky and cheap with engines dating back to the early 80’s. Would anyone buy a Pontiac Montana over a Honda Odyssey from the same era? Hell no.

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
7 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

Would anyone buy a Pontiac Montana over a Honda Odyssey from the same era? Hell no.

Well, there was a subgroup of buyers who would have done this, mostly in the Midwest, particularly in the more rural areas.
But then again, these were also the types of people who would buy GM and only GM cars no matter how good or bad they are.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
7 months ago

Damn, I had no idea it could have been on the S10 platform….would have made so much more sense.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
7 months ago

THANK YOU! I’ve said for a long time that the aztek is not the ugliest car in the world… I mean.. it’s up there, but I see what they were TRYING to do, and what market they were aiming at. The truth is most american families would do JUST fine with an Aztek, they don’t actually need a truck based SUV with a monster tow rating, just some interior space and nice features. The tent option was far ahead of it’s time, and yes, this is a primo example of a great design being watered down to a horrible execution.

I’m really surprised you skipped over some of the original sketches, which captured the designers INTENDED proportions, which were later ruined.

Link to original concept sketches:

https://i.imgur.com/AWsDxjo.png

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

You can use this one, I photoshopped the F out of it into a pikes peak edition. 🙂

https://i.imgur.com/ZllTovC.jpeg

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Arses, no?

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Not trying to be a pain, but how do you guys use images from BaT then?

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
7 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

Looking at the concept sketches, the back window being slightly lower than the front two makes more sense – it was a part of a curved line at the base of the DLO. It looks like someone vetoed this but forgot to bring the rear window back into line.

JDE
JDE
7 months ago

I liked many of the optional things about these things, but agreed the stubby minivan with body cladding was done far better by Dodge with the Journey. I might have overlooked the styling had these things been optioned with a 3.8 v6, but the 3.4 was a stinker from day 1.

I thought Buick kind of made the styling better, but did not take any of the cool options with it, so no tent, no cooler in the center console. not much of anything really and still no 3.8 V6

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
7 months ago

Is it just me, or does it look like the proportions were not changed a whole lot from the 99 concept to production?

I don’t think they corrupted a great design because the concept looked equally awful.

My issues with the Aztek were not the high cowl height and stickin out rear bumper. It was the insecty pointy stacked blobby headlights front end, the weirdly flat and perfectly vertical rear, ugly early aughts “Lifestyle Vehicle(TM)” cladding, and the whole concept of making a posermobile out of a minivan.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

That cladding is a disgrace.

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
7 months ago

Amazing how such (relatively) subtle changes to the final design can have a huge result in aggregate. Probably the most egregious example of this was the metamorphosis of Chrysler’s very cool Pronto Cruizer concept into the PT Cruiser… by the time they were done it had gotten much taller, sprouted a couple extra doors and lost the aggressive proportions that made the concept so appealing.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
7 months ago

…but this type of meaningless target-driven management was endemic in how the corporation developed cars at the time…

This is a perfect example of what is wrong in so much of the corporate and government worlds. Speaking as an engineer, data is quite important and it’s tough to measure improvement if there’s nothing to measure. However, blindly managing to arbitrary numbers is a sure path to utter disaster. So much of the time managers are trying to manage to numbers they don’t understand and that do not measure what they think is being measured.

Case in point: I manage a support team for a very advanced and expensive technology product. If a customer runs into a question or problem with our products they open a ticket and my team works alongside our R&D people to resolve it. In recent years it has become fashionable for our customers to assign a clueless “project manager” to look at the time to ticket closure as a way to hold their suppliers accountable. Sounds fine, right? Except, they inevitably focus on one number: time from ticket open to ticket close.

So what’s the problem with that, you ask? I’ll use one customer we had as an example.
1) They didn’t trust us, so they forced all support ticket documentation into their own system and wouldn’t let us touch it. As a result we had to rely on the customer closing the ticket. Predictably, they were always busy and once their problem was solved they didn’t particularly care to burn their time on record keeping. It was difficult to get them to file tickets in the first place; they just wanted to call our support people and have it fixed without “wasting their time” filing a ticket. Oddly enough it was customer management who forced their people to file the tickets because management was trying to get evidence on how “problematic” our products were to use against us in business negotiations. It would often take an extra week or more and several reminders to get the ticket closed when a problem had already been resolved. That time was counted against us.
2) All tickets went into the same bucket. This meant requests for product enhancements got left in the same queue as tickets for actual problems with the product. Because enhancements inevitably took at least several months to get into new releases and often a year or more if they happened at all you can imagine the impact on closure times.
3) The system had no way to measure when we got the customer productive. Oftentimes in our process we would be able to provide a workaround to get the customer going within 24 hours. We also would often provide an engineering hot fix within 1-3 days. However, these hot fixes would need to be tested at the customer and then fully QA’ed by the factory to put into a full production software patch, a process that could take weeks. All that time got counted against us even though we often had the customer operational very quickly.

It took six months and a lot of argument to get 1) and 2) resolved, and 3) remains an ongoing problem. Meanwhile, a customer executive who was fully aware of the issues with the numbers deliberately went into our CEO and misused those numbers to trash our support teams in a cynical negotiation ploy.

If you want to research another example of the folly of managing strictly to numbers check out the New York Police Department issues when they started using COMPStat to measure crime rates. While measuring crime rates is obviously a good and useful thing, management was to the number instead of to improving policing and watching the numbers measure the improvements in methodology. As a result of the pressure to bring the crime numbers down officers would do things like report to a crime scene and then deliberately say, “I see no crime here” simply to keep an incident out of the statistics.

As you can tell it’s a subject I’m quite passionate about as a manager interested in organizational leadership.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
7 months ago

90s Pontiac concepts were so cool, the Stinger and the Salsa, and then they build the Firebird. I feel like though, they already kind of had a Stinger with the Geo Tracker before, if they’d have made a Pontiac Sunrunner based off the Vitara 2-door, given it some cool removable coolers and boombox I think it’d have done ok.

Oh yeah, the Aztek, it sucked.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Right! To be clear I think the 4th Gen Firebird was great! Unfortunately the Camaro design suffered a little by it, but the Firebird/Trans Am/Firehawk just looked like they were going 100mph when sitting still, that’s what I meant bundling them in with the concepts.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
7 months ago

I remember reading about how after this came out, and the negative public reaction to it, GM had a bunch of these unsold, so they forced many corporate executives to take them as their company cars. They were instructed to drive them and talk them up every chance they got.

Didn’t help.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

How’d that work for them?

Yeah, that’s what I thought…

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
7 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

It was funny how at that time, Ford was doing the same thing with its offerings. It was damn near impossible to rent a car from Hertz and NOT get a Mustang.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
7 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Yeah, but people would LIKE to drive a Mustang. Even a rental spec Mustang.

In fact, I ended up driving a rented yellow Mustang convertible in my grandmother’s funeral procession. Everyone was disappointed that I didn’t drop the top during the drive to the cemetery, but I felt that wouldn’t have been in good taste.

Last edited 7 months ago by StillNotATony
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

> people would LIKE to drive a Mustang

Maybe before they drive one?

I was on business and supposed to get the cheapest of the cheap rentals (paid for by the other party). They were out and only had a mustang. So I got a free “upgrade” and drove a mustang through flat parts of Utah.

It was a pile with boring acceleration and zero visibility. I’d never ever own one. If I got one for free I’d sell it on. Awful.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
7 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Ex-girlfriend’s grandfather ran a Cadillac store back when these came out. His GM rep was forced to drive one. After a few store visits, he requested the guy not park it out front where customers could see it.

Kvally
Kvally
7 months ago

Based on all the CUV/SUVs out and their crazy designs today, the Aztek was ahead of its time.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
7 months ago
Reply to  Kvally

It was absolutely ahead of its time, but it was a poorly executed version of a vehicle that was ahead of its time. So was the first gen Chrysler Pacifica.

Tim Connors
Tim Connors
7 months ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

Toyota Highlander was the first gen Pacifica done right.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
7 months ago
Reply to  Tim Connors

Yeah, I’ll go with that. And they sold a crap-ton of them.

Kvally
Kvally
7 months ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

I could not agree more.

Tim Connors
Tim Connors
7 months ago
Reply to  Kvally

Honda Element was the Aztek done right.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
7 months ago
Reply to  Tim Connors

Always liked them, wonder why it was dropped? Think it was a pretty good seller and didn’t have much unique content beyond the bodywork.

Jdesigner
Jdesigner
7 months ago

(Applause) Sadly GM isn’t the only big corporate car maker that forgets design once a concept sketch is created.

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
7 months ago

We’ve all made up our minds that the Aztek is gonna be a winner.”
This is classic bad leader bullshit. Exemplifies everything that is wrong with GM and similar companies.

Ivan256
Ivan256
7 months ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

And shitty sports teams too.

It’s a great mentality…. if you’re a battle commander who needs to send the troops into a blood bath for the greater good.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan256

Don’t knock it too much. Its how Russia won WW2….and how Germany and Japan lost it.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan256

Which is why Nick Saban famously focuses himself and his teams on “The Process.” He’s only got seven national championships to show for it, too, so it’s obviously a losing strategy.

Ivan256
Ivan256
7 months ago

So your argument is that Nick Saban throws a shit team out on the field stubbornly believing in it against all evidence to the contrary?

Sorry, but there is no way that’s what “The Process” is.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan256

I, uh, actually meant the precise opposite of that. GM had a predetermined outcome in mind, that did not come to pass.

Last edited 7 months ago by Joe The Drummer
Ivan256
Ivan256
7 months ago

For sure. I still don’t get what Alabama has to do with it then though.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan256

Coach Saban says to focus on the process of becoming the best individual player you can, and success will naturally come (within the bounds of your actual talent/skill). GM said “this will be a success no matter what you think about it.”

Loren
Loren
7 months ago

Great reading.

Slab sides and tiny wheels do a lot to make a vehicle unappealing.

Lardo
Lardo
7 months ago
Reply to  Loren

I love my dorky Transit HR pop-top camper. Like a pregnant roller skate. But yes, it took some getting used to.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
7 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

But that’s something that’s so dorky it’s chic.

Which the Aztek is not.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
7 months ago

The Aztek was basically GM’s “Modern Prometheus.”

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
7 months ago

I remember driving an Aztek shortly before they went on sale. It was just a car, once you got inside. Not terrible, not great, just low-average.

I stopped to gas it up one day, and a few people gathered around to gawk. I heard one say “Hey, I think that’s the new Pontiac Anthrax!”

After years of driving some pretty homely vehicles, I must say this was at the top of the Ugly List. Only the Honda Element threatened to yank it from that perch.

No Kids, Just Bikes
No Kids, Just Bikes
7 months ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

The Element is the only car in my past that I miss.

Aaron Nichols
Aaron Nichols
7 months ago

Sounds like we need Adrian and The Bishop to collab on a revised Aztek if GM had gotten their collective shit together.

21CenturySchizoidMan
21CenturySchizoidMan
7 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Nichols

I second this idea!

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
7 months ago

Thing is, if you’re going to create an “all new” vehicle on an existing platform, it ought to do something (objectively or subjectively) better than the existing vehicle.

Examples:
The first US Honda Odyssey (the one without sliding doors) was objectively a better station wagon than the Accord Wagon from which the platform was shared/derived.
The first “New Beetle” wasn’t really objectively better than the Golf from which it was derived, but subjectively it was cute and retro.

The Aztek wasn’t better than the U-van upon which it was based. Objectively, it was less practical than the van, with reduced cargo and passenger space. Subjectively, it looked uglier and less proportionate than the van did.

This post does a great job of outing and attacking the corporate arrogance of GM. In the mid 60s, when GM owned almost 50% of the new vehicle sales in the US, and maybe they deserved to be arrogant about it, but by the time of this abomination, they should have been a whole lot more humble.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
7 months ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

What about both generations of the New Beetle? Less passenger and cargo space than the Golf, but more expensive, otherwise pretty much the same, sold reasonably well

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
7 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

As I wrote, the NB sold on cute/retro. It wasn’t a better car than a Golf, but some folks liked the looks

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
7 months ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

Ah right, comprehension fail. Guess the Mustang falls into the same category- no functional improvement over the Falcon, but it just looked so much better

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