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Camaro only the beginning for GM

By Jim Mateja
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- The Chevy Camaro isn't the only new car coming from General Motors in the next couple years.

The Camaro reportedly will be joined by the Pontiac G8, a companion to the next-generation GTO due for 2009, as well as high-performance Chevy Impala and Buick sedans.

All will be derived from the same midsize, rear-wheel-drive platform.

Camaro and its companions will put a little more emphasis on the days of the high-performance, high-styled American muscle cars of the '60s and '70s and should attract baby boomers who didn't have the dough at the time to take part.

"It's exciting. All of these cars should rejuvenate the car business at GM," according to John Wolkonowicz, senior analyst for Global Insight, who closely follows GM's product strategy. "This is exactly what Detroit should be doing."

The Camaro will be in showrooms early in the 2009 calendar year. It will mark the return of the sporty car from the '60s that got emasculated in the '80s, when federal fuel economy regulations shifted attention to mileage, not fun, and put the focus on Japanese machines.

"The domestics have lots of blue-collar fans who love Chevy, Ford and Dodge but have been left out in the cold for a long time. They want cars with an American flavor and American muscle -- Charger, Challenger, Camaro, Mustang -- a heritage the Japanese don't have," Wolkonowicz said.

Bringing back performance when consumers want high mileage could be a tough sell, and GM has to bring out some high-mileage small cars, too, Wolkonowicz admits. "But this isn't about cars with large V-8s consuming lots of fuel. High-performance doesn't have to mean bad fuel economy," he said.

While consumers are captivated with how much fuel gas/electrics can save, the hybrid Toyota Highlander with a V-6 gets 27 mpg on the highway. But, he said, the Chrysler 300C with a Hemi V-8 gets 27 mpg and the Chevy Impala with a V-8 gets 28 mpg highway.

And most Camaros, like Mustangs, will be built with V-6s for those who want the look and more than 30 mpg on the highway.

"You want better mileage? Get out of an SUV that gets 18 mpg highway and into a sports sedan that gets 28 mpg and you've accomplished something -- 10 mpg better fuel economy," Wolkonowicz said.

Of course, you'd do even better getting into a 38 mpg Toyota Corolla.

"But it's still a free country, and we can drive what we like and not what fuel-economy activists want us to drive," he said.

If the Impala makes the switch from front-wheel-drive, it may signal the departure of its companion Monte Carlo coupe. Stay tuned.
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