Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Pontiac Aztek's Looks, And its Sales

Over on another part of the Internet right now, they're gathering to make fun of the Pontiac Aztek. (Perhaps, if you don't know what an Aztek is, you remember the unusual-looking SUV driven by Walter White in "Breaking Bad." That was an Aztek.) Someone over there claims that the Aztek is a thoroughly mediocre SUV, and that if it functioned better, its looks would've been accepted and it would have been a commercial success.

I'm not a car guy. I'm not competent to respond to the accusation that the Aztek's performance is mediocre. (Although the place where this discussion is taking place, the comments section under a story about how used Azteks [none were made after 2005] are currently prized by Colorado off-roaders, makes me think that its performance couldn't be all that awful.)

However, my brother is not only a car guy -- he was one of the engineers at GM who created the Aztek, and so I happen to know a couple of things which maybe most people don't know:

The Buick Rendezvous was quickly put together after it was clear that the Aztek was not selling nearly as well as GM had hoped. The Rendezvous is essentially an Aztek with some minor changes in sheet metal and interior. However well or poorly the Aztek performs as an SUV, the Rendezvous performs the same. And about 4 times as many Rendezvous were sold.

Sorry if that makes some proud Rendezvous owners feel icky. It's true though. It's also true that my Saturn Ion has exactly the same chassis as a whole bunch of other GM cars made over the course of several decades.

I myself have always liked the Aztek's styling. This is one of many, many indications that I am not the guy to go to to learn how the general public will like something. I had seen pictures of Azteks before they were on sale to the public. I don't know if I would've noticed those picture if I hadn't known that my brother was one of the engineers on the Aztek project. The first time I saw one irl life, my brother was driving us on a multi-lane highway to or from the Detroit airport. It zoomed past, standing out from the surrounding traffic in 2001 much more than it would have in 2017. I said wow, and that I thought it looked really great. My brother answered grouchily that I and the man who'd created the exterior design were the only ones, and that the edgy styling had led to a sales disaster.

A couple of years years after that, my brother was driving again, and we passed a GM dealership whose lot was absolutely crammed with Azteks. I remarked that the huge number of Azteks in that lot must mean that it was selling well after all. My brother informed me that it meant exactly the opposite: GM couldn't unload the Azteks they had already made and they were piling up in lots all over the place, destined for huge price cuts. That's when he told me that the Rendezvous was an Aztek with a face-lift and that it was outselling the Aztek 4 to 1.

The pain of knowledge...

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