After a 35-year absence the Dodge Challenger muscle car is back in production. It has started rolling off the assembly line in Brampton, Ont.
An hour's drive east in Oshawa, General Motors recently announced the elimination of 2600 jobs because pickup truck sales have fallen off a cliff but there is a new product in the works. It too is a V8 muscle car that disappeared years ago - the Chevrolet Camaro.
At a time of soaring gasoline prices and concerns about global warming, at a time when sub-compacts and compact cars are setting sales records, both Chrysler and the General are promising "tire-smoking performance" from born-again street-racers from decades ago.
Sub-compacts are shooting out the lights in terms of sales these days. The new Ford Fiesta sub-compact is going to be built in Mexico, GM's subcompact Aveos come from Korea, Chrysler is going to get its sub-compact from somewhere in China; but if you're looking for a 400 plus horsepower V-8 that's "race inspired and street legal" then your car is probably going to be built in Ontario.
Jobs have been lost at both Chrysler's Brampton plant and at GM's Oshawa. Brampton dropped their third shift because big cars like the Dodge Magnum wouldn't sell. Similarly when gas prices soared, sales of Chevy Silverados tanked and GM announced they're going to close the factory.
Full size cars and trucks are seriously out of favour in today's market; so what are those Ontario plants getting to fill the void? Muscle cars that hit their peak in the 1970's when gas was pennies a gallon.
It's a complex and highly political process that determines which factories get which products. Sometimes it's the size of the plant and the equipment that's in it that settles the question; sometimes it's union agreements, sometimes it's the type of government subsidy that's on the table. Through whatever process, Ontario has become the home of the Detroit Three's big stuff.
Japanese manufacturers have taken a different tack. Honda in Alliston builds Civics and Toyota in Cambridge builds Corollas - hundreds of thousands of them - and they both sell all they can produce.
Ford in Oakville is somewhere in the middle. They dropped the Windstar minivan because it never sold well, but they've moved into production in a segment that seems to have some growth - crossovers. These are the lighter, more efficient replacement for the old SUVs which were car-like vehicles built on a heavy truck frame. Crossovers, like the Ford Edge, are selling pretty well and Oakville builds three different crossovers on the same assembly line.
The Dodge Challenger, in case you're wondering, has a promised top speed of 272 kph and Chrysler is building less than 7000 of them this year. De-tuned 6 cylinder versions will come along next year. While it won't win any awards from David Suzuki for its gas guzzling excess, the Challenger does fills a production vacancy at Chrysler's Brampton plant, but not a very big one with the numbers likely to be sold.
I have seen no sales projections for the Camaro, which is likely to have even more horsepower. Challengers and Camaros are halo cars, not volume cars. Halo cars attract attention and draw the curious to the dealers and hopefully put a halo around the other stuff in the showroom and elevate the brand. Volume cars, produced in the hundreds of thousands are the ones that keep factories busy.
You may see the odd Challenger on the road in Canada this year and a few Camaros in 2010. You'll certainly notice them when you see them scream by and you'll know where they were built. You will also see thousand s and thousand of Corollas and Civic go by and you'll also know where they're built. And you'll certainly know which ones mean more for the Canadian economy.