GM to resurrect gas-guzzling sporty Camaro

August 11, 2006|By THE DETROIT NEWS

WARREN, Mich. -- The official announcement that General Motors Corp. is bringing back the Camaro came yesterday morning in Traverse City, Mich., when chief executive G. Richard Wagoner Jr. confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in the auto industry.

But the party really revved up a short time later outside GM's Warren tech center. A crowd of about 7,000 GM employees and Camaro enthusiasts gathered on a grassy hill, where dozens of the classic muscle cars were parked near a makeshift stage.

Well-worn rock songs from the Camaro generation, including Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" and the Steve Miller Band's "Jungle Love," blared from a sound system.

Then, in a repeat of its debut at Cobo Center in Detroit during the North American International Auto Show in January, a silver Camaro concept car rolled down a long, cordoned-off path to park center stage, as a trio of GM executives began extolling its virtues.

"We're once again going to build the muscle car that dominated the streets of America and captured the hearts of automotive enthusiasts everywhere," said Ed Peper, Chevrolet's general manager.

Peper, who called the new Camaro a "shot in the arm" for GM dealers, the company and customers, said the updated muscle car will not be a niche vehicle, but a mainstream entry within reach of budget-conscious buyers that will appeal to men and women, young and old. GM has not released specific pricing.

The original Camaro made its debut in 1967 to take on Ford's mighty Mustang. Nearly 3.8 million were built before production ended in 2002.

GM may build 100,000 of the new Camaros annually, Wagoner said. The car will feature rear-wheel drive and an independent rear suspension, and will be available with a manual or automatic transmission and a V-6 or V-8 engine.

GM's decision to go deeper into muscle cars, a vehicle category famous for high performance but poor fuel economy, might have been better-timed.

With gas prices topping $3 per gallon nationwide and Americans snapping up more fuel-efficient vehicles, a new Camaro might have trouble connecting with U.S. car buyers.

But Peper is not worried.

"I don't think Americans will ever get tired of muscle cars."

The Camaro concept car is very close in appearance to the production model that will hit the market in 2009, GM design chief Edward T. Welburn said after the tech center event.

He said buyers would notice only minor changes, such as a higher roof line. Reporters noticed that the 6-foot, 5-inch Peper had trouble getting out of the low-slung concept car.

But Camaro enthusiasts seem eager to buy any new version put in front of them.

Doug Warren, 53, is the owner of four classic Camaros and president of the West Michigan Camaro Owners Club in Grand Rapids. Mich. He drove his 2002 limited edition Camaro to the GM tech center for the announcement.

"We love the new car," he said, standing next to wife Anita. "There is just something about these cars that touches people's inner souls."

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