Even as General Motors continues its strategy of bringing Pontiac-GMC and Buick dealerships under one roof, the head of Pontiac-GMC says the brands will maintain their distinct personalities, Associated Press (AP) reported.

The idea is to increase sales and boost profits for dealers, even if it means having some overlapping products on the same car lot, Pontiac-GMC general manager Lynn Myers told The Associated Press on Friday.

“This is not a merging of brands,” Myers, who’s hopeful that a revamped Pontiac line will add life to sagging sales in recent years, told AP.

According to AP, Myers said Buick will still have its sophisticated look, while Pontiac will cater to the sportier crowd with a focus on performance. GMC deals in light trucks.

Because of an aging product line and the leaning among consumers to sport utility vehicles, Pontiac’s sales have fallen from 616,000 in 1999 to 517,000 last year, AP noted.

“The basic theory is this: If you give people more distinct choices, more people will come to shop and you’ll sell more cars and trucks,” Myers said of the Buick-Pontiac-GMC marriages, according to AP.

AP noted that GM, the world’s largest automaker, began the so-called retail “channel strategy” in the early 1990s. It would prefer, in larger markets, to have only Cadillac, Chevrolet and Saturn — and possibly Saab and Hummer — in stand-alone locations.

AP said that GM re-emphasised its commitment to the plan last week when it named Kurt Ritter, the former Chevrolet marketing chief, to the new position of general manager of the Pontiac-GMC and Buick divisions. Ritter will oversee the two divisions, though they’ll not formally unite.

According to AP, of the 2,766 Buick franchises at the end of 2002, 109 were freestanding. On the Pontiac side, 58 of its 2,807 franchises were stand-alone. Those stores that already were selling Buick, Pontiac and GMC vehicles numbered 736.

One of the challenges of the plan is persuading dealers in some markets to partner with others, or in some cases sell their franchises, AP said.

“We’re not forcing anyone to do this,” Myers told AP. “It’s really going to be a function of how these franchised dealers work in terms of coming together.”
J Ferron, an analyst with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, told AP the concept makes sense — placing several types of cost-comparable products under one roof.

But bringing a few dealerships together can have drawbacks for customers, such as losing a convenient neighbourhood dealer that becomes part of an auto megastore across town, Ferron told AP. In some cases, he said, a dealer may want to open a small, remote service outlet or showroom to better serve a community.