Source: Globe & Mail
Camaro lovers fired up for classic's rebirth
Monday, August 21, 2006
As president of the Ontario Camaro Club, Dale Oldham will be watching with keener interest than most people today when General Motors of Canada Ltd.
announces that it has chosen Oshawa, Ont., as the place to go back to the future.
Almost five years to the day after the last Camaro rolled off the line in Ste. Thérèse, Que., GM, government officials and Canadian Auto Workers leaders will announce that Oshawa will be the launching pad for GM's re-entry into the muscle car wars.
Mr. Oldham, owner of seven Camaros, said his main concern, when GM surveyed Camaro club owners about what they wanted in a new car, was that it be recognizable as the car of his youth. So he admits to being a little disappointed when he watched the concept version of the muscle car roll down the aisle at an auto show in Detroit in January.
But having seen the car a few times since then, he has warmed up considerably. "I think they've sort of gone past that retro thing. They've gone past that retro thing and made it modern."
It's not as if GM's future depends on the auto maker clicking with boomers who look fondly on the cars they drove in their teens.
But it's a significant boost for Oshawa, and GM's operations there, because the auto maker announced in November that it was closing one of the area's car plants and eliminating 3,900 jobs.
Instead of layoffs, it's now expected that any job cuts caused by redeveloping the site during the next two years will be taken care of through attrition.
The Camaro comes off a platform or basic chassis called Zeta, which will spawn other cars as part of a big expansion by GM into rear-wheel-drive passenger cars later this decade.
"This is good news for Canada," said industry analyst William Pochiluk, president of consulting firm Automotive Compass LLC.
Along with the Pontiac Solstice and the Buick Lucerne, "it also shows that General Motors can build cars that people find appealing," Mr. Pochiluk said.
Camaro's importance extends beyond the 100,000 or so cars that GM expects to sell.
Planners at GM and its Detroit-based rivals are counting on the revival of classic names to create a halo for their brands and generate showroom traffic.
Someone popping into a showroom to check out a Camaro may not necessarily buy one, but might check out Chevrolet's other offerings, such as the Impala or Malibu sedans, or maybe the Equinox sport utility vehicle.
As GM vice-chairman and product czar Bob Lutz said earlier this year, reviving the classic names from the 1960s gives the Detroit-based threesome of GM, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group an edge over competitors from Asia and Japan.
One problem for GM, however, is that by 2009, the retro American muscle car market is going to be more crowded that it is today.
At the moment, Ford's Mustang is virtually alone in the segment.
But the Chrysler group will begin selling its two-door Dodge Challenger in 2008, so GM will be the last one to the party.
Mr. Oldham, a mechanic for a trucking company in the Toronto area, was impressed with the Challenger concept he saw at the auto show in January, in part because it was the Chrysler muscle cars of the late 1960s and early 1970s that first grabbed his attention.
Chrysler abandoned that market through various financial crises, however, while GM hung on, sticking with the Corvette and cranking out Camaro and Pontiac Firebird models until 2002.
The 49-year-old's first Camaro was a 1981 model that still has just 1,800 kilometres on it. He brought it home from the dealership and promptly put in a new engine with a supercharger on it, ready for racing.
"I showed the thing more than I ever tried to race it," he said.
As one measure of how the world has changed since Camaro, Challenger and Mustang were racing around North American roads in the 1960s and 1970s, he bought his most recent Camaro in May on eBay.
It's a red, 2002 model, a 35th anniversary, Brickyard edition with about 16,000 kilometres on it for which he paid $26,288 (U.S.)
Another member of the club who bought one new from a dealership that year paid $52,000 (Canadian).
There is some concern, noted Mr. Pochiluk, that the automotive market will not be big enough for all three cars.
Nonetheless, he's expecting a revival of the Camaro's twin, the Firebird, to give a boost to GM's Pontiac brand, which is supposed to be the sporty division of the GM stable.
© The Globe and Mail