A few weeks ago the hashtag #slatepitches flourished on Twitter, with users mocking the site’s tendency to publish contrarian, counter-intuitive pieces on just about everything. Joke pitches included ideas like “Soccer: It’s time to let players use their hands,” “Lead pipes and your genius baby,” and “How the ridiculed Aztek Pontiac could end up saving General Motors.” Oh wait, that last one’s real:
It’s easy to berate GM for always failing to see where the market is going. But in this instance it was the first to recognize the need for a new kind of vehicle to fill the crossover segment, which would grow rapidly in subsequent years. A crossover is basically a 21st-century station wagon. SUVs are usually built on the same platform used for trucks—and they often feel that way when you drive them. They also inhale gas. Crossovers, by contrast, are built on platforms used for cars, so they have better road manners, and they’re more fuel-efficient. There were some crossover-ish vehicles before the Aztek, such as the Subaru Forester, but these were seen as neo-wagons, or small/compact SUVs. With the Aztek, GM created something that had SUV size, minus the SUV stigma. [...]
In terms of innovation, the Aztek shares DNA with some surprising relatives, like Apple’s early, failed PDA, Newton, or its first stab at a portable, proto-laptop Mac. Apple (AAPL) didn’t succeed with these products, but the company began to define new markets with them. Obviously, laptops and notebooks would eventually become huge part of Apple’s business, and while Palm came to dominate the PDA market, Apple’s experience with Newton set the stage for its move into smaller personal devices, such as the iPod and iPhone. GM could banish all recollection of the Aztek, but the vehicle’s controversial design could be just the ticket as GM seeks to define how hybrid gas-electric-crossover technology derived from the Chevy Volt will appear.
Six years in and I still like my Aztek. I just wish it came with a convertible option.
[Thanks to Quasim for the link!]