While stories have circulated about the immediate success of the Knudsen-Estes-Bridge-DeLorean team, it's apparent that product is the most important element in any automotive success. And it still took some three years (because of the lead time involved) for this team to change the product.
With a new car in 1959, Pontiac's fortunes took a sharp rise. A total of 382,137 cars was sold for 6.33% of the market. The division was off and running. In the next two years, Pontiac stood firm on this comparatively good plateau, with sales of 399,646 and 372,871 cars. And an important thing was happening. In 1960, Pontiac was just a few units behind third place, but in 1961, they had inched into third — by a margin of 2186 cars.
By 1962, the auto industry was poised to sell more than 20 million cars in the next three years. Pontiac took off with it, boosting sales at an average rate of over 100,000 units each year. The division sold 528,654 cars in '62, a total of 606,791 vehicles in '63, and the estimated 700,000 units in '64. Sales penetrations soared to 7.62% in 1962, to 8.03% in '63, and to about 9% in '64. In addition, the division cemented itself in third place by taking an 87,659-car lead over fourth place in 1962. This margin rose to 132,005 in '63, and to about 170,000 in '64.
Looking back on the rather dismal situation in 1956, Bridge recently told MOTOR TREND, "We were in sixth place, behind Buick and Oldsmobile. If there's one thing that drives Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac, it's the desire to beat the other two divisions. So our work was clearly cut out for us."
When asked to summarize his formula for merchandising Pontiac, Bridge said, "You've got to have product appeal — style, performance, reliability. You also have to have good advertising to get these ideas over to the public. Of course, the car owner himself can be our best salesman. If he tells his friends he's happy with his Pontiac, it can be a terrific force in drawing people into our showrooms. It's like a fire — it keeps feeding itself.
"We also needed fair and able administration of sales policies. Also, we had to have dealers in the right places. We have to have the right number of dealers, so each dealer has a potential for a fair number of sales. The dealer has to feel we're fair in our distribution and administration. I'm convinced that a happy merchant is a better merchant.
Asserting that Pontiac has had a heck of a team since Knudsen's arrival, Bridge said this was partly due to the fact that Pontiac was at the bottom of the heap in the industry, and their sales, engineering, and production executives had to band together to survive.
"I don't feel there's any magic in being a successful sales manager," Bridge said. "Product is definitely the big tool. We've tried to build a good, aggressive, sound organization. But I can't sit here and tell you there's been any magic involved."
Broadly speaking, the production and the merchandising of almost three quarters of a million Pontiacs annually is done by the division management the divisional field organization, and most important in many respects, the dealer organization. Bridge supplies the liaison between these groups. To do this, he's almost constantly on the move, devoting all his working hours to personally talking to people in all these groups.