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As if General Motors Corp.’s Pontiac brand didn’t have enough problems, now the company says the GTO is going away at the end of the year. On one hand, the car never really sold the way GM had hoped. Bringing the sporty Monaro to the U.S. from GM’s Australian Holden operation was a good idea on paper. But the styling was outdated. By the time GM imported the car here a couple years ago, its jelly bean profile screamed 1990s.

But here’s the bigger problem. Once GTO disappears from showrooms, GM’s so-called sporty division really will have just one car—the Solstice roadster—to back up its brand promise of “excitement.” By the end of the year, Saturn will have the Sky roadster, which is built off the same platform as Solstice. And the Aura sedan is arguably more boldly-styled that Pontiac’s G6. Hence, Saturn will be able to make the same promise. Add in the new G5 coupe—which is a Chevrolet Cobalt compact dressed as a Pontiac—and the disaster in complete. Pontiac’s attempt to be bold, expressive, or sporty will be a joke. That harsh truth is compounded by the fact that Chevrolet—with a slate of SS performance cars and 505-horsepower Corvette Z06—is emerging as GM’s real performance division.

It’s not surprising that GM is once again bungling a brand’s image. What is surprising is that it’s Pontiac that is being watered down, and that it’s happening with car czar Robert A. “Bob” Lutz riding herd. If Lutz knows anything, it’s cool cars for the gear head set. True, he brought us the Solstice and Sky. But the GTO is all his, too. He misfired with the car by assuming buyers would stump up more than $30,000 for it when Ford offers a brawny Mustang and Chrysler sells a Hemi-powered 300C in roughly the same price range but with much better styling.

Sources say Pontiac may get a rear-drive muscle car at the end of the decade. It could be built using the same hardware as the forthcoming Chevrolet Camaro, which could come as early as 2009. But for Pontiac that’s at best four years away, which is a long time to wait for a brand whose fortunes are fading fast.

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