By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Motorheads don’t want to hear it; refuse to believe it — but ugly realities are coming down hard on the ’09 Camaro that will very possibly cause GM to pull the plug before the first one ever rolls off the line.
Doubt that? Consider the stillborn rear-wheel-drive next generation Chevy Impala — nixed because of concerns within GM about the possibility of meeting the pending (2012) 35 mpg fuel economy edict recently passed by Congress. A lighter front-drive car with a V-6 instead of a V-8 can make the cut; a V-8 RWD Impala can’t. So it’s gone. So is the talked-about next generation GTO. And the future of the G8 sedan looks not so good. GM is openly talking about scaling back the entire Pontiac division — and ending its role as a performance brand.
No bull; not my opinion. Just facts.
Now consider the 2009 Camaro — and the world in which it will have to swim. Gas prices are already surging toward $4 per gallon for regular unleaded. And Camaro’s not even here yet. By the time the car reaches production status in about eight months or so, we may very well be at $5 per gallon.
At the same time, the buying power of the dollar is falling down the well — so everything is becoming more expensive, not just gas. And most of us are not making more money to compensate. Quite the opposite. Inflation and income stagnation are hitting us hard. Those of us who still have jobs and have been able to maintain the same income we had a year or so ago are few, thankful — and nervous. Buying a new car is not on our agenda. And buying a frivolous new car even less so. Camaro is not an exotic; it is a “Joe Sixpack” kind of car — so middle class and working class buyer skittishness is no small thing.
GM is well aware of these facts — which are going to kneecap Camaro (and any car like it) on the consumer level. Whatever the projected sales potential was two years ago should probably be cut in half. Bet your bippie that the bean counters within GM have thought about this, too.
That’s bad enough — and by itself could be sufficient to make going ahead with Camaro in 2009 about as sensible as building something like a Series 62 Cadillac would have been in 1979.
But wait, there’s more. Don’t forget the 10,000 pound Tallboy bomb that’s about to fall onto GM’s head (and ours) in the form of the 35 mpg CAFE edict. That changes … everything. The recession, crippling gas prices and declining buying power of the dollar are merely the coupe de grace.
A V-6 Camaro could maybe meet the current 27.5 mpg CAFE requirement for passenger cars without major engineering changes/expenses or hitting buyers with a “gas guzzler” surcharge that would bump the purchase price of the car up by $1,000 or more.
But 35 mpg? Only a few four-cylinder economy compacts and hybrids make it under that bar. Anything much over about 3,200 pounds with an engine larger than 3 liters is getting iffy. With a 300-plus hp V-8 engine and rear-wheel-drive?
Don’t believe it? Chew on this:
The current Ford Mustang GT — a car very similar in layout/power and so on to the pending ’09 Camaro — manages just 17 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway. That’s with the 4 liter V-6 engine, by the way. The GT’s 4.6 liter V-8 (300 hp) slurps it down at the rate of 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. To survive 35 mpg CAFE, the V-8 Mustang GT would have to somehow nearly double its current average fuel economy. How is this going to be achieved, exactly? Think Ford is worried about the Mustang’s viability?
You’d better believe it.
The new Dodge Challenger is in even worse shape, CAFE wise. Its wonderful 6.1 liter V-8 won’t last long in this world, given city mileage of 13 mpg — and highway mileage that isn’t even out of the teens (18 mpg). Yes, a V-6 version is coming, but the most efficient engines of this size/type that Chrysler has available – like Ford — don’t come close to delivering 35 mpg.
Camaro’s in the same pickle. Neither the base V-6 version nor the high-powered V-8 model have a prayer of achieving CAFE compliance. If they’re produced, buyers will be facing huge “gas guzzler” surcharges that will only add to the growing roster of negatives arguing against making a purchase — from $75 fill-ups to the general uselessness of cars of these type, beyond their ability to provide a good time.
And here’s the deal: Chrysler’s already on the hook; the commitment to production has been made. It will have to at least try to make a go of it. For awhile. Ford has a strong buyer base for the Mustang; a case can be made that even with gas guzzler fees and generally awful times, economically speaking, it’s worth trying to hold the line — at least, for the moment.
GM no longer has a sure bet buyer base; the name has been out of circulation for almost seven years now. That is a long time, regardless of other external issues, such as gas prices. Rebuilding a brand/make of car is tough in the best of times. In bad times, it is a fool’s errand. And it’s a luxury that cash-strapped, no longer number one GM cannot afford to indulge. If Camaro sinks — as all signs indicate it will — GM will lose a ton of money. Remember that unlike Challenger (which is “spun off” the existing Charger sedan) GM has had to invest a great deal in what amounts to a brand-new platform/tooling and so on to make this happen. Big sales are needed to make it up. It increasingly looks as though that is extremely unlikely to happen.
Which is why GM may just abort the whole thing before it ever sees the light of day.
You wait and see.
Image Credit: Chevrolet