SS Commodore

Cam at Polemica writes about the GM Holden Commodore SS being exported from Australia to the US as a Pontiac model. If you read some of the comments here it is apparent that many Americans don’t seem to grasp the globalised nature of the automotive industry and what this means for branding and the like. I tried to cover some of this issues in my essay on the failure of the Pontiac GTO nee Holden Monaro in the US.

I have been struck by the styling of the most recent Commodores because Holden designers have moved away from the ‘blob’ styling of the VT-era models and have invoked a kind of folding or invagination that punctuates the muscular curves of the new VE-era. The simplest example is of the fish gill inserts in the front fenders. Another example is the exhaust pipe detail. The VT models had the exhaust kind of slip from underneath the skirts of the blob-body. The VE models have much more detail that kind of folds around the exhaust pipe.

There is also the Nazi badge connection. This is unsurprising when I think of some of the boofheads that I know who drive SS Commodores. The previous model’s SS badge looked like a cross between the runic ‘lightning bolts’ and latin ‘double s’ of the Nazi SS.

SS Nazi:

SS Commodore:

7 replies on “SS Commodore”

  1. I dont think the GTO was a failure. They sold pretty well for what was an old design when it came to the US. I think it was also a low risk interview for Holden to see if it could supply the US market.

  2. when you put it like that it doesn\’t seem like a failure! if fact it makes a sort of weird sense as a success.

    but I didn\’t read anything like this at the time it was withdrawn. it seems a bit like that US general saying \”No, but we\’re not losing the war\” when he was asked if the US was winning the war in Iraq, if you know what I mean.

    Hmm, maybe you could read the GTO as a success if you put it as you have done, but there are two ways to understand the GTO as a failure.

    Surely they would want to actually sell cars. I think they only sold about 40,000 or so a year in the US, which is about half as many than in Australia compared to our population/sales. This the \”but we\’re not losing the war.\”

    Then there is the slightly trickier problem which I try to address in my essay, but don\’t really spell out as clearly as I would\’ve hoped. The Pontiac GTO is clearly meant to be a hero car, whichever way you look at it. I have not found any evidence that would suggest anyone in the GM management thought otherwise. As you would be aware, there was a massive fuss over the Monaro\’s \”import\” styling (and as I point out with the Millen drift machine, this correlates with Pontiac\’s motorsport proclivities). I think by \’import styling\’ the yanks meant what I called the \’blob\’ styling above.

    This contradicts the cultural importance of the Pontiac GTO as an icon in US car culture. The old catchphrase for Pontiac was \”The heartbeat of America\”. The GTO was the first muscle car, etc. All the history stuff and so on.

    Selling a car _accused_ of being an import (yes, accusation, in the moral/guilt sense of committing an offence) means that it has failed to be a hero car. This doesn\’t mean that some US punters could look past the obvious cultural implications of the \’import\’ GTO moniker and see the \’Monaro\’ underneath that so captivated Australian enthusiasts, ie as a pretty good car for the money. Maybe as a test commodity in the flows of the globalised automotive industry it was a success. However, as a cultural commodity the GTO was a failure.

    One of the reasons I think it fails in the US is that there aren\’t several thousand povo pack Commodores getting about to compare it to. It is a standalone model. The movement from povo pack to SS Commodore (or Monaro) captures some of the romance that Holden packages into the SS as a cultural commodity. The US car will not have this movement.

    GM management seemed to not have grasped the concept that a car is not simply a technical engineering exercise (front-engine V8 driving rear wheels, etc) that seems to magicaly correlate with a particular type of enthusiasm in the car buying public. Both the car and the car buying public are implicated in the system of automobility which includes all the cultural dimensions as well. The SS and MOnaro were built for an Australian system of automobility, heavily influenced by the US with an American system of automobility in mind. But Australia is not the US. As I have suggested elsewhere the cross-brand exchanges of technology and styling (like back to the 1960s with the original Monaro and GTO) would be a better selling point than attempting to talk up the existing model by itself. To use the language of Lazzarato, the US car buying public needs to be informed of the _world_ from which the SS Commodore belongs. This means not simply fetishising it as an object in advertising, no matter how good the actual car is, otherwise it will fail again. Produce a world that a buying public wants to belong to, so they have to furnish this world with themselves necessarily as owners of a SS/G8.

  3. Apparently the original plan was for three years of sales anyway. I think the old Commodore platform finally didnt meet safety standards or something in 2007. So it couldnt be sold after that anyway.

    The GTO was marketed pretty lightly in the US, (I am currently working in Nth VA) and was kind of aimed at people who would buy a BMW or Merc – not boy racers. Mustangs have that market sown up.

    They were sold for 35K and without options. Boy racers or alpha-guys tend to buy 20K Mustangs. This was aimed at the 35-50 demographic who like luxury, leather, and big V8s. In that market it was a hit. You also see many former corvette owners say they get more attention in a GTO than a ‘vette. The GTOs are different, they are non-US colours too, and they have an awesome sound at idle.

    The current Mustang kind of changed the design standard for muscle/pony cars – dictating that they must be retro. GM, Chrysler, Ford and Toyota have since flooded the market with retro designs. Cadillac also changed what a luxury design should look like with creased and square edges. So the GTO showed its age.

    But the original GTOs were Pontiac Tempests (4 door family cars) that had two doors removed and a bigger engine added. That is exactly what the Monaro is.

    I havent bought a GTO (they advertise them as 50% US parts on the car lots as the engine and transmission are US made) as I drive a ‘vette over here. In Au I used to get around in a 1962 EJ Holden (208 stroker) so dont really want to drive round in a Holden when in the US – I can do that at home.

  4. “But the original GTOs were Pontiac Tempests (4 door family cars) that had two doors removed and a bigger engine added. That is exactly what the Monaro is.”

    That is exactly what the Monaro is (recent and old models), I agree, but from the beginning that is not what the 2004 Pontiac GTO was, at least for most US enthusiasts, which is why it is a failure. This is actually the main argument of my essay! The whole reason why it is called the XXX test is because the new GTO would fail to live up to the cultural meanings of the old GTO (ala as hero car in the film XXX). Similarity of technical design is not enough, what needs to be captured is the movement in the technical design.

    As I argue above and more extensively in my essay, the original 1964 GTO captured a movement from the Lemans(Tempest) -> GTO, and as you note this is basically what the new Monaro was. In the case of the original GTO option the engineers (DeLorean) of the manufacturers basically used the techniques of the hot rodders to produce the factory muscle cars. In part they made it an option to get around Pontiac’s own restrictions on engine size.

    This movement of muscle/modification in the case of the original GTO was overcoded with particular cultural meanings (masculine, American, etc.), and it became diluted as the model progressed into the 1970s.

    Without demonstrating to the US buying public the history of the pedigree of these new ‘Pontiacs’ (Holdens), i.e. they are actually special versions of normal cars, then the movement from normal car to special car can not be overcoded with particular meanings through advertising. Instead they will cop the distasteful ethnocentric codings that some US enthusiasts will give the cars because they are ‘imports’.

    Actually I can’t see how advertising is going to be enough, like these new G8/SS models aren’t going to work without selling normal Commodores in the US, too.

  5. Glen, I agree, but from the beginning that is not what the 2004 Pontiac GTO was, at least for most US enthusiasts, which is why it is a failure.

    The enthusiasts you are talking about don’t buy 35K cars with all options included in the price. They buy old cars for 10K and do them up, or a Honda for 4K and then spend 10K on accessories etc. It was never in that car’s demographic.

    I dont think the name was in the enthusiasts demographic either. The old GTOs in good condition go for 20K-50K. A mate of mine bought a 68 Camaro last year for 28K.

    Hard to call the GTO a failure. They still sold a lot of them and they now have an underground cultish appeal – same as the old GTO does.

  6. sorry I missed your reply, cam

    maybe it did succeed with certain markets. However, i am going by these sorts of figures:

    GM will produce 10,000 to 12,000 more GTOs before dropping the nameplate, one source close to the situation says. Last year, Pontiac sold 11,590 GTOs compared to 2004 when it sold 13,569. That’s a 14.6 percent drop.

    When Pontiac launched the GTO in 2003, it projected 18,000 annual sales. The vehicle was criticized for bland styling, and some fans of the original GTO complained that it lacked nostalgic styling cues.

    From here:

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