It comes down to this, as General Motors and Chrysler struggle for survival.
GM had too many vehicles of various brand names, often overlapping each other, to refine in a streamlined world.
Somehow, the company was slow off the line to distance itself from the days when, decades ago, "they had pretty much the whole market sewn up,’’ said auto industry analyst, Erich Merkle.
Back then, GM could be sure that its loyal customers would start with a Chevrolet, move up to Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Buicks and the ultimate dream, a bad-ass and luxurious Cadillac. But maintaining that range in a faster, more competitive world proved too distracting.
And the distractions kept the company from focusing where it should have — on a leaner, cleaner lineup.
And so, even while announcing Monday that it is killing yet another 21,000 factory jobs, closing several more factories, and slicing its dealer network by 40 percent, it also offered what could be an object lesson in what went wrong with much of the American car industry.
GM is killing Pontiac, home of once-iconic models that roared to the dreams of America’s open roads.
Chrysler, on the other hand, had plenty of trucks and big cars, but lacked the factory lines and basic auto architecture to build small cars. And so they have turned to Italy’s Fiat, a builder of far finer small cars than we remember when they were on these shores in the 1970s.
Fiat, a global company compared to what Merkle called Chrysler’s "North America-centric’’ focus, had lost its North American presence.
In a merger, a symbiotic swap would occur on two fronts: geography and architecture.
Chrysler could use Fiat’s small car architecture to manufacture the mites in demand today, and build them in North America. And Fiat could build its own small cars here, with shared architecture, but different design.
Chrysler and Fiat are filling gaps, GM is creating some in a bid for sharper focus.
And thus, the demise of a once legendary brand which, Merkle said, "has become a stable of rebadged GM product’’ with nothing different or exciting to offer.
Make no mistake, Pontiac once had big names for itself: Bonneville, Tempest, Firebird.
But the big mama was the GTO.
America’s first muscle car, it pulled Ford and Chrysler into the muscle car field.
And it was a field with international appeal, if not huge overseas sales. But back in the day, an Australian cruising in a GTO, an Italian in a throbbing Mustang, a Japanese driver at the wheel of a thundering Camaro, really stood out.
So let’s go back to what was the future. Appropriate terminology given that the father of the GTO was one John DeLorean, familiar to younger generations for the silver-brushed car he named for himself, but which, alas, turned out more famous as a movie prop ("Back to the Future’’) than as a classic automobile.
But not many remember that the Pontiac Gran Turismo Omologato, built from 1964-1974 using first Tempest DNA, then Ventura underpinnings for its final year, was DeLorean’s most influential baby.
Pontiac, under GM honcho Bob Lutz, tried to restore a moribund brand by bringing back the GTO in 2004. That effort lasted until 2006. Why?
First, it fooled no one. It was a rebadged Holden Monaro shipped here from Australia.
Second, and I subscribe to this theory, there was nothing about it redolent of the original GTO: no hood scoop, no menacing front grille. You could say it lost by a nose.
And yet, Lutz’s idea to trim Pontiac into a performance fleet was a good one. Get rid of the stupid vans which, Merkle said, Pontiac built only because it was easy to do. Stop competing against other GM vehicles.
"Throw something up against the wall and see if it sticks,’’ he said of the company's experient with a van, and the Pontiac G-5 which he called a "rebadged Chevrolet Cobalt.’’
Now Chrysler, which is not robust enough in its offerings, can expand, under the right conditions.
GM, meanwhile, must make the more painful — in terms of morale, economy, human pain — of ever severe cuts.
Its sugar daddy will likely be the U.S. government. GM is a behemoth international company (it sells more cars overseas than it does in the U.S.) coming home where, as Robert Frost wrote, "when you go there, they have to take you in.’’
Chrysler, meanwhile, so rooted in North America, has asked for help not only at home, but also abroad, and this geographic-financial-industrial synergy may well be where the entire industry will save itself.
More dispatches by GlobalPost correspondent Royal Ford: