“You get a car! And you get a car! Everybody gets a car!” The moment Oprah gave away 276 Pontiac G6 sedans to her studio audience on this day in 2004 certainly ranks among the most memorable TV moments in history, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, the announcement solicited real screams and cheers, but when the dust settled, recipients found themselves stuck with a tax bill totaling about $6,000. So, while Oprah had asked producers to fill the audience with people who really needed a new ride, more than a handful couldn’t afford to keep the car.
Furthermore, it was certainly charitable, but the giveaway didn’t come out of Oprah’s pocket. Pontiac footed the bill for the whole event. The automaker donated the vehicles, each worth about $28,500, from its advertising and marketing budget. Earlier in that episode of Oprah, the host toured a Pontiac plant, oohing and awing at the new G6 lineup. Of course, all this isn’t too say that the event was not incredibly generous, it certainly was. As one winner put it, “It’s not really a free car. It’s more of a 75 percent-off car. Of course, that’s still not such a bad deal.” However, even Oprah’s free car giveaway couldn’t save Pontiac.