PONTIAC ON THE MARKET
The closest thing to a miracle in recent automotive history has been the meteoric rise of GM's Pontiac Division from a poor sixth place in 1958 to a very strong third in 1964, trailing only the giants — Chevrolet and Ford.
In 1958, Pontiac sold only 229,707 cars, and its sales penetration (share of the total industry sales) was only 4.94%. By the end of 1964, this division's sales had soared to an estimated 700,000 units. Its sales penetration had risen to about 9%. And Pontiac's still gaining momentum.
One of the first people to deny bringing about such a miracle would be Frank V. Bridge, Pontiac's general sales manager and one of the major architects of this merchandising phenomenon. The division's sales have risen so remarkably that Bridge has repeatedly had to deny that he's discovered any magic elixir.
Bridge frankly admits that the cars themselves have been the big stimulant in Pontiac's remarkable success. He gives credit for this steady improvement to three men who came to Pontiac in 1956, the same year he arrived. They are Semon Knudsen, former Pontiac general manager and now Chevrolet general manager; E. M. (Pete) Estes, former Pontiac chief engineer and now Pontiac general manager; and John Z. DeLorean, former Pontiac assistant chief engineer and now Pontiac chief engineer.
But the best car in the world doesn't sell itself. It was Bridge who gave Pontiac the soundness and the incentives in the merchandising end. It was Bridge who made the slight- modifications and adjustments that converted Pontiac's rickety old merchandising organization into the hard-driving, enthusiastic, very successful body it is today.
The story of Pontiac's sales since 1956, when the new team took over, can be told briefly. That year, the division sold 358,668 cars for 6.02% of the total market. Next year, sales dipped to 319,719 units, with a sales penetration of 5.34%. In 1958, Pontiac had a very bad year, for reasons that are still a mystery. The whole industry was down in this recession year, but this division's market penetration dipped even further - to 4.94% of the market and 229,831 units.