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Gm's Aztek: Born To Be A Little Too Wild

How "concept drift" changed Pontiac's radical SUV into an odd duck

General Motors Corp. (GM) has found out the hard way that it's not easy to be hip. Last summer, the carmaker's Pontiac Div. began rolling out its Aztek sport-utility vehicle, the first of several designs that GM hoped would turn around its reputation for churning out nondescript cars and reverse its market-share slide. And the Aztek is anything but blah. At Red McComb's Superior Pontiac/GMC in San Antonio, the edgy, outlandishly styled vehicle sits in the showroom next to a more conventional Hyundai Santa Fe SUV. But so far, the Korean-made Santa Fe is outselling the Aztek five to one, says Darin Hair, the dealership's sales manager. It's tough to sell many Azteks, Hair says; "People love it or hate it."

More often today, the Aztek is the vehicle people love to hate. Many dealers who try to sell it can't find kind words for the Aztek's aggressive looks. And at $22,000 to $27,000, the Aztek is overpriced for its original twenty- to thirtysomething market. Even the car-enthusiast magazines, which typically review even the worst automobiles with kid gloves, have ripped the Aztek's styling. Automobile magazine called the SUV "gut-wrenching to look at." Says James Hall, vice-president at automotive consulting firm AutoPacific Inc.: "Functionally, the Aztek is great. It just looks like six-week-old cottage cheese."