Camaro on verge of revival
CAW vote this week is next step toward GM's 2010 goal
March 7, 2006
BY MARK PHELAN
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Just weeks after it thrilled crowds at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Chevrolet Camaro will take a giant step closer to production if workers at General Motors' plants in Oshawa, Ontario, approve a new flexible manufacturing system this week.
GM hopes to have the Camaro and other members of its new rear-wheel-drive family of cars in production by 2010. The automaker wants to reignite enthusiasm in Chevrolet by cashing in on Camaro's heritage of affordable style and performance.
"The Camaro program is on a very good track," said a knowledgeable GM person, who requested anonymity because the company has not publicly announced it will build the car. "Things are looking good."
The stunning V8 Camaro concept was the undisputed hit of the auto show, drawing praise for its combination of futuristic design touches and retro cues that recall the legendary muscle car. It was a mainstay of Chevrolet's lineup from 1967 until it went out of production in 2002, a victim of slow sales.
GM is betting that plenty of life remains in the public's appetite for muscle cars, given the popularity of the new Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger.
Karl Scheffy, 52, a store owner from Macungie, Pa., who is cofounder and president of the American Camaro Association, recalled Monday that "as soon as I saw that thing roll down the line" at the auto show, "I said, 'Oh, my word.' "
GM will invest $710 million to build the Camaro and other members of a new family of high-performance rear-wheel-drive cars in Oshawa if the Canadian Auto Workers agree to the deal. The CAW local told its members that GM plants in the United States are also in the running to build the cars.
GM currently has two car assembly plants with about 5,600 workers in Oshawa. One plant is scheduled to close in 2008, and the second could close in 2009 without the new labor agreement.
"The plant will become a flexible manufacturing facility to build a number of models from the new rear-wheel-drive platform, including the Camaro," if the deal goes through, said a CAW person who requested anonymity because the negotiations are ongoing.
The flexible manufacturing system would allow the plant to build a wide variety of models, probably including two- and four-door models for Pontiac, Chevrolet and Buick.
The cars all come from GM's new global Zeta family of models. Engineers and designers are developing Zeta rear-wheel-drive sedans and coupes at the company's Australian tech center. The first of the cars, the Holden Commodore, goes on sale later this year in Australia.
Although the two-door Camaro would give Chevrolet a competitor for sport coupes like the Ford Mustang and Nissan 350Z, GM expects to sell larger numbers of several new sedans that reportedly will come from the Zeta family.
Those cars would give Buick, Pontiac and possibly Chevrolet prestige models that can compete on power and style with the Chrysler 300, which took the country by storm when it went on sale in 2004.
The program has not been officially approved by GM's board of directors, but that irreversible step isn't due until the company must begin paying suppliers for the equipment to build the new cars, probably sometime in 2007.
Neither the CAW nor GM will say anything about how many of the new cars Oshawa will be able to build, but the workers are voting on a proposal that includes provisions for a possible third shift in 2010. A third shift would be necessary only if demand for the cars were very strong.
Building the Camaro and other new cars would save more than 3,000 jobs in Oshawa, which was among the plants targeted for closure in GM's recent reorganization plan.
Contact MARK PHELAN at 313-222-6731 or [email protected]. Free Press business writer Michael Ellis contributed to this report.