The Pontiac GTO, built in Australia by subsidiary Holden and a pet project of General Motors‘ ‘product czar’ Robert Lutz, is off to a slow start, according to Automotive News.

The US motor industry newspaper reported that dealers think the GTO – touted as a ‘halo car’ for Pontiac – suffers from bland styling, a high retail price and no incentives.

According to Automotive News, Pontiac has so far this year sold just 2,451 units – discounting seasonal differences, that’s an annualised 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, the paper added.

Pontiac spokesman Jim Hopson reportedly said that a December launch slowed sales. “Winter probably isn’t the best time to launch a rear-wheel-drive vehicle,” he told Automotive News, adding: “However, we’re already beginning to see sales pick up with the nice weather.”

Pontiac sold 719 GTOs in March and 650 in April, the report said.

Automotive News said GM engineers reworked the Holden Monaro, giving it left-hand drive and a Pontiac front end while the V8 engine received 48 more horsepower, for a total of 350 hp.

The paper noted that the exterior received a new front fascia and a spoiler and that Lutz praised the car’s “brawny, muscular stance”, but many enthusiasts reportedly said the reborn GTO lacks the ‘in-your-face’ styling of the original muscle car, fondly nicknamed the Goat.

Some dealers told Automotive News the market for coupes is limited, and the price is high – the GTO starts at $US33,495, including destination charge, while the V8-powered 2004 Ford Mustang starts at $24,300.

Dealers also told the paper that the GTO lacks popular extras such as hood scoops, a sunroof and factory chrome wheels, while rumors have circulated that the 2005 model will have different styling and more horsepower.

US press reviews seen by just-auto have been largely favourable but there has been criticism of the lack of factory-fitted satellite navigation, too.

According to Automotive News, uneven allocation to dealerships may be one factor in the slow sales start. One dealer told the paper that the Detroit area is flooded with GTOs but a GM spokesman said the company has changed its allocation, shipping more vehicles to dealerships where the car is selling.

And some dealerships report brisk sales. Dennis Hadd, sales manager of McNamara Pontiac in Orlando, Florida, told the paper: “All but a couple of our allocation are sold. A vast majority were pre-sold.” McNamara has sold about 10 GTOs, the reportadded.

Automotive News noted that Pontiac last year said it planned to sell 18,000 GTOs though Holden plans to assemble 16,000 GTOs this year in Australia and can produce up to 18,000 GTOs annually in coming years.

GM told Automotive News that, 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.