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Slow sales won't slow GTO

Future look: Is this a clue to what's coming? This GTO Ram-Air 6 was shown off at the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit last month. It's the result of an 'employee enthusiasm' program rather than being an official design study.

Holden's Pontiac will continue on despite a slow start to sales in the USA

30 Sep 2004

THE slow sales start of the Australian-built Pontiac GTO in the USA has been blamed on distribution issues and the car’s name, as well as the long-running complaints over its styling.

However, with the look being toughened up for 2005 and an all-new car in the pipeline there appears no doubt about the program continuing long term, says General Motors North America president Gary Cowger.

To the end of August 2004, 5551 of the Holden Monaro-based GTOs had been sold in the USA. There seems no doubt the car will finish its first 12 months on sale well short of the 18,000-20,000 sales target.

“The problem that we had with the GTO was that we did not distribute it to the right markets originally,” explained Mr Cowger.

“We distributed it on a sales-weighted basis for Pontiac and therefore I think we got too much product in the northern climes and not nearly enough in the smile states, California, Texas, all the way through Florida.” Northern states means winter snow, something that is not conducive to the sales of rear-wheel drive sports coupes.

“If we hadn’t done that we wouldn’t have backed up the inventory at the beginning. Now that we have got that straightened out we are starting to see it go,” Mr Cowger said.

That assertion is backed up by August sales, which at 967 were the best for the car since its US launch.

Mr Cowger said calling the car GTO had proven to be an issue because fans of the original musclecar contended the Aussie version didn’t have enough retro cues to earn the revered moniker.

“In retrospect if we were to call this car the G8 it wouldn’t have had that (negative response) … I think it may have been different,” Mr Cowger admitted.

“G8” is a reference to Pontiac’s new midsize sedan, the G6, that debuts a new naming convention for the brand.

However, Mr Cowger said that he was confident 2005’s stronger visual cues including bonnet scoops, as well as the 6.0-litre LS2 V8, would boost the GTO’s sales performance to an annualised rate above 15,000.

“I am very confident this is a great car, a great performing car and as Pontiac gets more and more new product and excitement going then I expect GTO to be very successful,” he said.

GM’s plan long-term is to build the next generation GTO in North America on the Holden-developed Zeta architecture, although that is still some years away.

The analyst says...

GARY Cowger has given us the official view on GTO. But for an independent perspective, we also spoke to leading auto analyst Jim Hall of AutoPacific.

Mr Hall has a strong grasp on the Australian car industry, not least because his brother Bob worked here as a motoring writer for 10 years, before moving to Malaysia this year to work in a senior product role at Proton.

Old versus new:
“If you look at the GTO as a toy, as a fun car to have, you can’t beat the car, it’s a great car to have for the money. But I can buy one of those and have it depreciate or buy a 1969 GTO coupe and it won’t depreciate. I am not going to say it’s going to go up, but it won’t depreciate ... If you are buying it as a car there’s no choice, you will buy the new one. But if you are buying it as a reward car then you have a problem.” The look:
“It should have been a little bit snappier from a design sense. They (Pontiac) wanted it fast and they arguably needed it fast so they had a trade-off. With the time it took to re-engineer the fuel system and everything, they had to make a call and they made that call ...

That’s a classic example, though, of saying ‘I would have done it this way’ which is easy to say now that it has gone on-sale.” Distribution:
“The USA, while it’s one country, isn’t one market. There’s an argument it’s six or seven markets with very different buying habits. I can accept that the distribution wasn’t right, but again they had no way of knowing. It’s the first time they have done this. They haven’t sold a GTO since 1975.” Will the car survive?
“Absolutely. I don’t see it as a threatened vehicle – I don’t. Because when they have the next platform (Zeta) vehicle they will have a car they will have architected from the start.”

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