The Camaro: GM's Past, But Not Future

the camaro gms past but not future

At 4pm Monday, GM pulled the wraps off the new Chevrolet Camaro. I didn't watch the live press conference. No surprise there. Literally. Everything about the car had been leaked in the week leading up to the curtain pull: exterior, interior, engines and transmissions. Other than that, only two numbers held any mystery: price and zero to sixty sprint times. GM only told us the latter. I'm excited, as a car fan. As an armchair CEO…

Yes, I know: this retro pony/muscle car is a sharp-looking old– I mean new, thing. And the V6 base coupe will power from rest to 60mph in an entirely credible 6.1 seconds. The automatic V8 version will hit 60 from stop in a truly impressive 4.6 seconds, roaring like a tiger about to grab a mouthful of Roy Horn. Every Camaro, V6 or V8, stick or automatic, will have six gears. The car may even handle well. So credit where it's due. Rock on! So who wants one of these things?

Camaro buyers will come in two basic flavors (watch it). Group One: traditionalists. They already think this article is pointless, full of shit and flat out wrong. They've been waiting to buy this thing since there was this thing to wait to buy ('87?). You can no more persuade them that GM should have spent the Camaro's development money improving the Cobalt than you can convince them that mullets were not, at any point in time, deeply fashionable.

The second group: people who want a cool car. They couldn't care less about zero to sixty times or skid pad numbers (ew) or lateral Gs (isn't that a drug-related term?). All they want to know is… price. Which is the only thing GM won't tell them. Provided it's within spitting distance of a fully-loaded Camry, they're going to like the Camaro. A lot. It's cool. And the ones who take the plunge will buy a V6 Camaro (with 300 horses, no shame in that) with an automatic.

While GM will be only-too-happy to suck-up trad buyers' money and props– look for "friends and family" discounts for the old white men who dominate the mainstream media — they know the Camaro's target market will be blue or slightly white collar mainstreamers stretching to make their car payment. That's why GM put-out the word on the Camaro's fuel economy at the press conference: 26mpg highway! How great is that?

Meh. Competitors with 250-300 horsepower (Charger, Challenger, Mustang) all offer comparable MPGs. These days, fuel-conscious secretaries consumers are lined-up none deep for FoMoCo's retro ride. 'Stang sales slipped 14.8 percent in June, down 28.8 percent year-to-date. During the same period, Charger sales tumbled 27.6 percent, down 11.3 percent year-to-date. And LOTS of those sales sailed with the fleets.

Clearly, this is NOT the time to launch a better, cooler, faster Mustang with the same lack of practicality and piggish ways. And that's not because the majority of American consumers suddenly want to go to Vermont to marry their Prius and raise your taxes so they can help people downtrodden by a racist, uncaring society. It's just that these potential buyers are backwards on their "cool" SUV, they're freaked by gas prices AND there are plenty of fun, frugal alternatives. I mean, there will be. You know; next spring.

Sure, there are plenty of old school muscle car guys (Group One) that wouldn't buy a "little rice burner" if you offered it to them for $100 and threw in a case of Jackie D. But they aren't the Camaro's core demographic. And the core demo is tapped-out and moved onto a Scion tC, or an Altima Coupe, or at the more expensive end of things, an Infiniti G37. At best, the Camaro can carve out a big slice of small– and rapidly diminishing– pie. Once again, GM's timing sucks.

Even worse, The General looks set to, once again, turn its back on its sense of identity/history. The last time gas prices whacked distinctively American cars, Detroit neutered everything. Responding to fuel price escalation, they fit their mid to late-70's land yachts with woefully-underpowered engines. In the face of the current gas crisis, GM "tempts" us with talk of a Camaro with a turbo-charged four-cylinder Ecotec engine.

While it's impossible to imagine a Camaro as bad as the old Iron Duke, the turbo 4 runs the risk of either being craptastic, or too good and thus killing V6 Camaro sales. GM made this bed. One way or another, they're going to have to lie in it. But that's no reason to lie about it. Trying to pretend the new Camaro's a Futon couch instead of California King-sized four-poster will fool some of the people some of the time, but not many. This is the time that GM must stick to its guns and get the marketing mavens to earn their crust.

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  • Pch101 Pch101 on Jul 25, 2008
    Don’t get me wrong, the Supra had amazing performance for its time, but don’t forget that it’s steep price doomed it to failure Absolutely right. The final Supra, and the RX-7 and Z car with which it competed, all illustrated the price limitations of mainstream Japanese car brands in the US. The Toyota, Nissan, Mazda (and also Honda) brands should not be selling cars at this price level. They also seemed to learn their lesson. Toyota focused instead on Lexus, Mazda killed the RX-7, and Nissan repositioned the next Z to come in at a relatively lower price and to sell the pricier stuff with an Infiniti badge. They learn quickly, Detroit should take notes.

  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Jul 25, 2008

    The new Camaro is the first genuinely good looking car to come out of GM in years (Ok, except for the Solstice and Sky). Too bad they can't seem to put styling like that on the Cobalt or even the Impala.

  • FreedMike How about the “Aztek” package? Wait, this car already has that…Said it before and I’ll say it again: they need to restyle the hind end on this car, stat.
  • Johnster "Vale" is the [s]cheap[/s] lower-priced performance version with black trim and stiff suspension."Mist" is the "DeLuxe" version with a bit more chrome and trim. (Sort of like the "Decor Package" option.)"Magentic" is the full-on Brougham treatment (in its current state) with more chrome trim than the "Mist" and all sorts of gimmicky electronic features inside. (Sadly, it will not include simulated landau irons or a vinyl covered roof, even as an option.)"Aurora" is the Oldsmobile of Cadillacs (sort of like the old Cadillac Calais). No, that's not right. It's the top-of-the-line model, sort of a "Grand Touring" version, with not as much chrome as the "Magentic" but all of the gimmicky electronic features and a stiffer suspension.
  • Drew8MR Why can't CARB leave hobbyists alone? Maybe lay off the low hanging fruit and go after the gross polluters. Bring back the rolling exemption.
  • ToolGuy According to Americans, the very lovely and quite powerful Ford Fairmont (1978-1983) was Way Better.Source: Sales figures.
  • Goatshadow Use case: trade it in the moment the warranty is up.
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