When it brings back the Chevrolet Camaro muscle car in a few years, General Motors Corp. hopes it will attract younger buyers as well as appeal to its traditional customers who want to roar down the highway.
GM’s top executive said Thursday the new version of the Detroit icon will appeal to car enthusiasts, yet be more fuel efficient and sophisticated than the 1969 version on which it is loosely based.
The new rear-wheel-drive car, with more aerodynamic styling than its predecessor, will hit showroom floors early in 2009. It will have automatic and manual transmissions and six- and eight-cylinder engine options to appeal to many buyers, Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said.
The decision to build a car that harkens back to GM’s heyday comes as the company struggles in a market beset by foreign competitors. The company lost $3.2 billion in the second quarter alone, due mainly to employee buyouts and other restructuring costs. Its July sales were off 22.2 percent from a year ago, led by declining demand for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.
GM officials say the Camaro is one piece of its plan to bring vehicles to market that people want.
Wagoner said the new car has technology that makes it “much more than a great-looking V-8 muscle car. It will give the option of increased fuel economy with the additional engine and transmission choices.”
GM officials have estimated that a Camaro concept car equipped with a manual transmission and a V-8 engine that goes to four cylinders at highway speeds can get 30 or more miles per gallon of gas.
Wagoner said GM expects to sell 100,000 Camaros per year, less than the remade Ford Mustang, which was the Camaro’s chief competitor from the 1960s through the end of its run in 2002. Ford Motor Corp. sold about 101,000 Mustangs through July of this year.
The car was engineered in Australia and will be built in North America, Wagoner said at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.
The price will be announced later, he said.
Production of the Camaro follows the Mustang and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Challenger as the domestic automakers turn to nostalgia to rekindle enthusiasm for their brands.
But the muscle cars go on sale as buyers are turning to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and hybrid vehicles to combat gas prices that some say could rise as high as $4 per gallon.
Despite gas prices, the Camaro will sell, said Jim Sanfilippo, senior industry analyst for Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc.
“Four-dollar gas isn’t going to mitigate people’s wishes to look good in their vehicles,” Sanfilippo said, adding that Americans want fuel efficiency, but they also want their cars to stand out.
Analysts have said cars like the Camaro are important because they build excitement for a particular car brand.
But GM and Chevrolet have to do much more to succeed, Sanfilippo said, mainly proving to customers that they can compete in the mid-sized sedan market with the Toyota Motor Corp. Camry and Honda Motor Co. Accord, which now dominate the segment.
Camaro rekindles a passion and spirit for Chevrolet, unlike the bland Malibu, Chevrolet’s current entry in the mid-size market, he said.
Wagoner said the company has a lot more exciting products coming, including new mid-sized crossover vehicles and an all-new Malibu.
Sanfilippo said the new Malibu will have to look good and compete with the Japanese on quality and performance.
“People will run under the Chevrolet umbrella in a heartbeat if they deliver,” he said.
GM unveiled the Camaro in January as a concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Chevrolet first introduced the Camaro in 1967.