When cost-cutting hobbled the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky’s sport suspension
The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky were an attempt by General Motors to compete with roadsters like the Mazda MX-5, but the Kappa platform cars fell short, due in part to some of GM’s cost-cutting moves. Yet, these measures were what made these cars possible – GMC Envoy lights and a Chevy Malibu steering wheel were but two examples of raiding the corporate parts bin to save on development costs. That mindset extended into the performance packages that were released down the road, with hilariously pathetic consequences.
The Solstice and Sky were given the go-ahead for production thanks largely to their assembly. The base 2.4-liter engine was straight out of the Cobalt and the manual transmission was sourced from the Chevy Colorado, neither of which are really known for their sporting prowess. The power from these pieces was transmitted to the wheels via a differential sourced from the Cadillac CTS. This kept the total budget tight, a necessity given the limited market for a two-seat sports convertible and the need for an affordable sticker price.
Despite the shortcuts, GM was able to work with racers to turn the Solstice into a proper race car that was able to win SCCA Showroom Stock B National Championship. To celebrate the win, GM decided to offer some of the race car bits to the public as the Z0K Club Sport package, akin to the Z51 package offered on the Corvette.
In 2007, the Z0K Club Sport package offered a lot of improvements for roughly $2,000, including a limited-slip differential, higher-rate suspension bushings, larger sway bars, stiffer sway bar bushings, stiffer sway bar links, performance valve dampers, and higher-rate springs. These pieces were tuned to work together to provide for a better-performing car right out of the box, but by the time these got to the customer, cost-cutting came into play and nearly ruined the whole idea.
Due to the changes made to the suspension, the Club Sport models rode lower, which prevented them from going across the assembly line and being loaded up for shipping like the standard cars. GM engineers decided to install a spacer on the spring perch to raise it up. Installing spacers for manufacturing or shipping is not uncommon, but in this case, GM decided that they would not remove them as part of the pre-delivery process and instead would charge owners if they wanted them removed and the car re-aligned. It’s unclear if this was a decision before or after the fact.
This decision was detailed in technical service bulletin 07-03-08-05 released in July of 2007 and titled “Removal of Supplemental Second Spring Seat.” The bulletin states the following:
“The Z0K package strut modules have a second spring seat installed as delivered from the factory for manufacturability and shipping reasons. This supplemental spring seat may be removed at the customer’s discretion and expense.”
It is clear from the description of the bulletin that the package was compromised to simplify manufacturing and shipping, and that GM would not reimburse dealers to remove the spacer to make the suspension package perform as designed. It also shows just how short-sighted GM was with these cars. Some buyers complained to their dealers and were able to get them to cover some or all of the cost of removing the spacers and re-aligning the cars. Unlike the parts of the Solstice and Sky that were compromised for good reason, like the five-speed manual’s gear spacing, in this case the wound was entirely self-inflicted. Even though engineers spent time tuning a performance package, GM let their cost-cutting undermine the end result.