Ford Mustang Vs. Chevrolet Camaro: 2016 Is Clearly Not The New Camaro's Year

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

On the Muscle Car Calendar, 2016 was supposed to be the Year of Camaro.

After outselling the Ford Mustang in the United States in five consecutive years between 2010 and 2014, it wasn’t surprising to see the Chevrolet Camaro fade into a distant second place in calendar year 2015. The Mustang was all-new in sixth-generation form for model year 2015; the Camaro was in its seventh and last year of its fifth iteration. The refreshed Dodge Challenger’s success may have played a role in the Camaro’s sharp decline, too, as 2015 was the seventh consecutive year of U.S. Challenger sales growth.

2016, with the reborn Camaro freshly reengineered and the Mustang no longer the freshest American muscle, is not turning out to be the Camaro’s time to shine.

Through the first five months of 2016, the Ford Mustang has outsold the Chevrolet Camaro by 21,324 units in the United States, a margin that may be impossible for the Camaro to overcome by year’s end.

There are a number of business factors at play.

Automotive News says Ford Motor Company’s Flat Rock, Michigan, assembly plant built more than 68,000 Mustangs in the first five months of 2016, while General Motors’ Lansing, Michigan, assembly plant built fewer than 49,000 Camaros.

According to Cars.com, Ford dealers have far greater inventory of affordable Mustangs; nearly double the number of sub-$30,000 Mustangs than Chevrolet dealers have sub-$30,000 Camaros.

Jim Cain (no relation to the author), GM’s senior manager of Chevrolet business communications, says this is the nature of launching a performance car.

“The early customers tend to be the most hardcore enthusiasts who are buying their dream car,” Cain says. “These customers are much more likely to check all the boxes — they want the most features and the most performance they can afford. As such, the first year of sales we expect to skew higher for V-8 models, manual transmissions, and higher trim levels.”

Outside of incentives, the base MSRP of a Chevrolet Camaro is 7-percent higher than the base price of the Ford Mustang; Camaro Convertible base prices are 10-percent higher, a $3,150 gap. The V8 variant of the Camaro is $4,000 more costly. GM’s Cain says incentives equal roughly $900 per Camaro at Chevrolet; $1,900 per Mustang at Ford. Erich Merkle, Ford spokesperson and sales analyst said, “Our Mustang incentive spend is in line with the segment average.”

Regardless of the levels of Mustang production and the heights of Camaro pricing, there’s no denying that the number of Camaros sold by Chevrolet is decreasing. Rapidly. And the number of Camaros sold is decreasing even though Chevrolet dealers have plenty of Camaros to sell.

Heading into May 2016, GM had a 71-day supply of roughly 20,000 Camaros, essentially on par with the industry’s 70-day average. Yet year-over-year, Camaro volume tumbled 40 percent to 5,827 units, a loss of 3,926 sales compared with May 2015 and by far the lowest-volume May since the Camaro’s 2009 return. Ford sold more than 10,000 Mustangs in May; the Dodge Challenger outsold the Camaro by 850 units in May, as well. Year-to-date, Camaro volume is down 6 percent compared with sales in 2015, a year in which Camaro volume fell to a six-year low.

Meanwhile, May was the Mustang’s third consecutive five-digit U.S. sales month. May 2016 Mustang sales fell 24 percent compared with May 2015, when Mustang volume soared to a the highest level in years. Through five months, Mustang volume is down 6 percent, as well, though for the Mustang this occurs one year after the all-new, highly regarded car lured waiting buyers into Ford showrooms; the year after Ford Mustang volume rose to an eight-year high.

The hard numbers don’t tell the whole story, however.

GM’s Cain says the Camaro is capturing an increased share of the retail market. “Camaro retail sales are up 13 percent so far this year. Fleet sales are down 53 percent,” Cain told TTAC in an email, while claiming that more than a quarter of Mustang sales head to daily rental fleets.

Yet even without those Mustang daily rental sales – 11,282 through the end of May, according to GM – the Mustang is still outselling its most direct Chevrolet rival — a rival which had the Ford pony car’s number for half a decade — by more than 10,000 units so far this year.

Questions posed to Ford on this subject were responded to largely with claims of overwhelming popularity.

“Mustang is the best-selling sports car both in total and in retail sales here in the U.S.,” Ford’s Erich Merkle told TTAC. Pointing to the fanfare Ford carved out with worldwide success a couple of months ago, Merkle says, “Not only is Mustang a top seller in America, but we are also the top seller globally.”

No matter how it find its customers, no matter the price those customers are willing to accept, it’s highly improbable that we’ll see the Camaro knock the Mustang down a peg by reclaiming its overall U.S. sales crown in calendar year 2016.

General Motors is on track to sell fewer than 75,000 Camaros in calendar year 2016, the lowest total since 61,648 were sold in the 2009 launch year. Even in decline, Ford is on track to sell more than 110,000 Mustangs in America this year. From here on out, the Camaro would need to outsell the Mustang by an average of 3,050 units per month to overcome the current deficit, and GM’s newfound unwillingness to trade heavily in the daily rental market makes that highly unlikely.

Both cars — indeed the Dodge Challenger, too — mark themselves out as decidedly mainstream purchases relative to the achievements of other sporting cars. The Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger are America’s 15th, 26th, and 28th best-selling passenger cars, respectively, so far this year. The Mustang outsells the Kia Optima and Volkswagen Jetta, the Camaro outsells the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and is within striking distance of the Chrysler 200, and the Challenger leads Chrysler’s own 300 as well as the Volkswagen Passat, BMW 3-Series, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Legacy, and Honda Fit.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

Timothy Cain
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  • CincyDavid CincyDavid on Jun 24, 2016

    I rented a Camaro convertible in Florida recently...the rubbery, stretchy vinyl seat bolster upholstery was gross, and the sticky decklid that was almost impossible to open was none too impressive either. An all-black interior and the world's widest A-pillars contributed to the feeling that I was driving a tank and looking out a gun slit. Just not my thing. I haven't driven a Mustang in about 5 years so I can't comment on the dynamics of the new ones, but of the pseudo-retro muscle machines, the Mustang's appearance is the most appealing of the bunch to me.

    • BuzzDog BuzzDog on Jun 26, 2016

      I refuse to be one of those Mustang fangeezers (too old to be a fanboi) who claims that his fourth Mustang is perfect - no car is. One thing that surprised me when I looked at renting a Camaro convertible was the trunk, and the need to flip a movable to allow space for the top to fold. Ford chose to designate a static space, separated by a steel panel, while still allowing for a fairly adequate amount of trunk space. The other thing was that the rental agent couldn't figure out all of the things that had to occur before the top would lower, or perhaps the top was faulty on this one particular car. I'm sure that the Camaro has its advantages, but as others have noted, every time I've cross-shopped it I've found the Mustang to be move livable all around on a day-to-day basis. And there's no comparison between the pony cars built today, versus the ones I drove new in the '80s and '90s. The older ones' interiors reeked of glorified econobox - plasticky, no power conveniences, and plenty of rattles - while modern ones are finished to near the level of an entry-level luxury vehicle.

  • Justanotherwb Justanotherwb on Jul 05, 2016

    I went to a Chevrolet dealer to check a 2016 out, they had a 2015 right next to the 2016, I had to look twice to see which was which, they look that much alike. The 2016's have a much nicer interior, however they are tiny, that was the biggest turn off for me. The price was also shocking, they had V6 Camaros on the lot for $36k w/o leather! That's Audi territory and I don't believe you can even order an Audi without leather. The outward visibility is a problem, I would be afraid to change lanes in the Camaro w/o a blindspot system. I did get a Mustang GT and i have the blindspot warning system without it in the Mustang I'd be doubly cautious about changing lanes. When I started driving the Mustang GT, I found a lot of people like to pull up beside me and check it out - usually right in my blind spot so Camaro owners I'm sure you'll get the same - beware!

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