CHICAGO – Rising gas prices so far haven’t dampened enthusiasm for the V-8 in the new ’08 G8, a Pontiac executive says.

Customers still see the V-8 as a bargain, Brian Shipman, G8 product manager, tells Ward’s in an interview, predicting the mix won’t shift toward the more fuel-efficient V-6 for about six months.

General Motors Corp.’s Pontiac Div. is counting on the performance sedan to help revive the brand and provide a shot in the arm to sagging sales.

Imported from Australian subsidiary GM Holden Ltd., the new model has received fairly favorable reviews from the enthusiast press and will be joined in the lineup by a 2-door sport truck version of the vehicle, unveiled at the New York auto show in March, for the ’10 model year.

Shipman also tells Ward’s he’d like additional performance variants for the G8 line, but downplays chances for a convertible model. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

Ward’s: What will the G8 mean to the Pontiac brand?

Shipman: The G8 is the flagship of our lineup. It replaces the GTO, Grand Prix and Bonneville, while taking us back to rear-drive cars with a performance image.

Ward’s: Will it atone for the troubles Pontiac had selling the GTO?

Shipman: I thought GTO was a great car, but I won’t get into what could have been changed on that car. The G8 has a stiffer chassis, better handling, more safety features, better aero, more interior space and is more affordable – under $30,000. Atone for any GTO sins? Don’t know, but it’s a better car.

We learned from GTO, which also came from Holden in Australia. We suffered train wrecks and typhoons getting cars here and it took six months between order and delivery.

Order a G8 and there are only limited pattern orders. The GXP version will only have two options – tires and sunroof.

We’ll have a buildup of inventory at our port in California. Dealers order cars from the port on the Internet. It took six months between order and delivery of a GTO. If you live in California it will take one to two days to get (a G8) from the port here, and if you live on the East Coast it will take 10 to 15 days.

Cars will enter the computer order system when they are within five days of arriving at the port in California. Dealer orders will be made based on monthly allotments, and the more sold, the higher the allotment.

Ward’s: Will the G8 revive Pontiac’s image?

Shipman: (The) G8 will help develop our image. We already do well with the G6, our volume car with 100,000 copies (sold per year). G8 is our performance-image car, with 30,000 to 50,000 expected (annual) sales. It shares the performance image with (the) Solstice.

Ward’s: What’s the market potential for the G8 sport truck?

Shipman: We’re not sure what it is, but we wanted to create a market segment and be the only one in it. (The 1970s-era Chevrolet) El Camino was a truck with a car cabin in front of it. The sport truck is a performance coupe with a truck bed in back of it. There’s room for the truck in our lineup because it’s a performance vehicle.

Ward’s: Are there any other derivatives planned?

Shipman: I’d like to enhance (the vehicles) some more. A company in Australia called HSV (Holden Special Vehicles, GM Holden’s performance arm) has done some performance things on the Holden Ute in Australia. But as for other derivatives, that’s something I won’t comment on.

Ward’s: How about a convertible?

Shipman: No one has been talking about one now. It’s tough to make a business case for a low-volume, high-priced vehicle like that when we already have a G6 convertible in our high-volume lineup. And we already have the open-top Solstice roadster.

Ward’s: Is the sport truck going to be classified as a car or truck?

Shipman: The Pontiac G8 sport truck will be a high-performance addition to the lineup. But we won’t know for a week or two if the 2010 sport truck will be licensed as a truck or car and whether it will contribute to car or truck (corporate average fuel economy ratings) or have to obey car or truck speed limits.

Ward’s: Who is going to buy it?

Shipman: The younger crowd, to hold their surfboards, bikes and gear.

Ward’s: As for a name for the sport truck?

Shipman: We’re down to 10 names submitted to GM legal and will pick the name by the end of the month and give a truck to the winner (of an Internet-based contest GM is holding to name the vehicle).

Ward’s: What effect are rising gas prices having on the G8?

Shipman: The V-8 still is very strong. These are people who read the reviews of the V-8 and want the performance. They read where it has the performance of a BMW for $20,000 less and figure $20,000 can buy a lot of gas.

We feel the V-8 will remain strong for about six months and then the V-6 will pick up. Those who buy the V-6 want the look, the ride and the handling, but at a more affordable price. But the V-8 is only about $2,400 more than the V-6 and it’s hard not to get the V-8 for only $2,400 more.

Ward’s: Are you pleased with reaction to the G8 so far?

Shipman: The reaction has been outstanding. As soon as (the cars) come into the dealerships they go out.

Ward’s: Is the pipeline filled?

Shipman: It takes about three months to fill and we have been filling it for about two months, so we are getting close and almost there.

Ward’s: When will you start selling the ’09s and what changes?

Shipman: We will sell 12,000 ’08s and the numbers on the ’09s are open ended. The target is 30,000 to 50,000 when we have the V-6, V-8 and high-performance 400 hp-plus ’09-1/2 GXP in late November or December of this year.

For ’09, the battery and oil gauges on the top of the dash are eliminated. We had a lot of negative feedback on those and (questions about) why they were there, and so they are gone. On base models, the radio display will take the place of those gauges. On upper-end models, it will be a storage shelf.

We also are adding XM satellite radio as standard and two more cupholders for a total of 10. We now have two cupholders in the rear seat center armrest when you pull it down. The ’09 adds two cupholders that pop out from the seat along the floor to use when the armrest isn’t pulled down.