Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Camaro Homecoming

Friday, August 11, 2006
Camaro Homecoming
7,000 employees and fans celebrate muscle car's return in '09
Brett Clanton / The Detroit News

WARREN -- The official announcement that General Motors Corp. is bringing back the Camaro came Thursday morning in Traverse City, where Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner 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 recreation 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 designed to appeal to men and women, young and old. GM has not released specific pricing.

The original Camaro debuted 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, may have been better-timed.

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

But Peper is not worried.

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

Wagoner said the new car will offer 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.

The Camaro concept is very close in appearance to the production model that will hit the market in 2009, GM design chief Ed Welburn said after the event

Buyers will notice only minor changes, such as a higher roof line, he said, after reporters noticed that the 6-foot, 5-inch Peper had trouble getting out of the low-slung concept.

But Camaro enthusiasts seem eager to buy any new Camaro.

Doug Warren, 53, is the owner of four classic Camaros and president of the West Michigan Camaro Owners Club in Grand Rapids. He drove his 2002 limited edition Camaro to the GM Tech Center for the big 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."

The Associated Press contributed. You can reach Brett Clanton at (313) 222-2612 or bclanton@detnews.com.

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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