Co. will get rid of Saturn, Hummer, Saab brands

Hollywood may have foreshadowed the future of Pontiac in “Transformers” when one of the film’s heroic robots, played by the carmaker’s two-seater roadster, was violently ripped apart and tossed aside.

General Motors had long put Pontiac on the endangered-brand list, but the Detroit automaker Monday said it was officially pulling the plug on the 83-year-old company by the end of 2010 as it focuses its efforts on its Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC monikers. It’s getting rid of its Saturn, Hummer and Saab brands, either selling them off or eliminating them altogether by the end of this year.

The disappearance of some of GM’s brands will not only mean millions of lost dollars for television networks but also for other companies reliant upon advertising from major car companies.

Overall, GM spent $2 billion in media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. That figure was always expected to drop as the company steers its way toward a potential bankruptcy filing this year, forcing sales reps to consider demanding cash upfront if GM wants to buy ads on their networks.

Pontiac, Saab and Saturn accounted for roughly 21% of GM’s marketing budget and spent around $400 million in 2007, according to TNS. Pontiac spent some $147 million on marketing that year, down from $240 million in 2005, and saw its ad budgets get slashed even lower as fewer cars rolled off dealership lots.

Cutting back on brands will benefit those that remain, with GM spending more around launches of other models. It will have 34 nameplates in 2010 compared with 48 in 2008.

For Hollywood, the retirement of Pontiac means the loss of a brand that has played a major role in movies and TV shows since it bowed in 1926.

Personified mainly by its muscle cars, Pontiac drove its way into pop culture, with its GTO the focus of a song by the Beach Boys, its Trans Am serving as Burt Reynolds’ getaway car in the “Smokey and the Bandit” trilogy and the model for “K.I.T.T.” in NBC’s “Knight Rider” and its Firebird the favored set of wheels for James Garner’s detective Jim Rockford in “The Rockford Files.”

Decades before that, Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel rode cross-country in a Star Chief convertible in episodes of “I Love Lucy” in 1955.

More recently, Pontiac has been sponsoring the musical performances on ABC’s latenight talker “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and it was a Pontiac G6 sedan on which Oprah Winfrey generated publicity mileage by giving away 276 free cars to her audience.

The company’s Solstice roadster received considerable exposure when it was chosen by Michael Bay to portray Jazz in “Transformers,” landing a prime spot alongside Chevy’s new Camaro. But the shape-shifting bot was killed off by the villainous Megatron in the 2007 pic, ending its chances of appearing in this summer’s sequel.

Despite the recent high-profile exposure, Pontiac couldn’t translate it into sales, prompting GM to turn the brand into a niche maker of sports cars.

That has obviously changed now that GM continues to hemorrhage cash and fights to remain one of America’s Big Three automakers.

“You have a strategy that wins or you have to stop,” said GM chief exec Fritz Henderson. “We didn’t have a strategy that allowed us to win with the Pontiac brand.”

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