Slow Goat: Controversial styling, high price hobble initial sales of new GTO By K.C. CRAIN | Automotive News Pontiac sold 719 GTOs in March and 650 in April. DETROIT - The Pontiac GTO, a pet project of General Motors product czar Robert Lutz, is off to a slow start. Dealers say the GTO - touted as a halo car for Pontiac - suffers from bland styling, a high sticker price and no incentives. "The car is more conservative looking than today's customer expects," says dealer Hugh Fiore, owner of Harbor Motors in Old Saybrook, Conn. So far this year, Pontiac has sold just 2,451 units. Discounting seasonal differences, that amounts to an annualized rate of 7,300 units - well below Pontiac's 16,000-unit target. GM has a 168-day supply of GTOs, well above the 60-day supply that is considered ideal. A December launch slowed sales of the Australian-built car, says Pontiac spokesman Jim Hopson. "Winter probably isn't the best time to launch a rear-wheel-drive vehicle," he says. "However, we're already beginning to see sales pick up with the nice weather." Pontiac sold 719 GTOs in March and 650 in April. GM launched an advertising campaign for the GTO in November. Pontiac hopes the USA Network cable TV movie The Last Ride will help spread the word. The movie features the GTO. Lutz, vice chairman for product development, pushed the Australian car to the United States with only minor changes. GM engineers reworked the Holden Monaro, giving it left-hand drive and a Pontiac front end. The V-8 received 48 more horsepower, for a total of 350 hp. The exterior received a new front fascia and a spoiler. Lutz praised the car's "brawny, muscular stance." But many enthusiasts say the reborn GTO lacks the in-your-face styling of the original muscle car, fondly nicknamed the Goat. "When you come back with a name like GTO, you need something more," says one Detroit area sales manager who declined to be named. Last week at a press event in Detroit, Kip Wasenko, director of design for GM's performance division, said, "You heard me talking about heritage. That's probably one of the things the GTO could probably use a little more of. But other people find it quiet and reserved because not everyone wants in-your-face, look-at-me kind of style." Some dealers say the market for coupes is limited, and the sticker is high. The GTO starts at $33,495, including the destination charge. The 2004 Ford Mustang with a V-8 starts at $24,300. The GTO lacks popular extras such as hood scoops, a sunroof and factory chrome wheels, some dealers say. Rumors have circulated that the 2005 model will have different styling and more horsepower, but GM declined to comment. Uneven allocation to dealerships may be one factor in the slow sales start. One dealer, for example, says the Detroit area is flooded with GTOs. Hopson says the company has changed its allocation, shipping more vehicles to dealerships where the car is selling. Some dealerships report brisk sales. Dennis Hadd, sales manager of McNamara Pontiac in Orlando, Fla., says, "All but a couple of our allocation are sold. A vast majority were pre-sold." McNamara has sold about 10 GTOs. Last year the company said it planned to sell 18,000 GTOs. But Holden plans to assemble 16,000 GTOs this year in Australia. The GM subsidiary can produce up to 18,000 GTOs annually in coming years. As of last week Holden had built 8,500 GTOs. At least 6,000 are in the United States, and another 1,000 are in transit, GM says.