Product planners at General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. had to face reality as they decided the fate of their sporty but slow-selling Pontiac Firebird/Chevrolet Camaro and Plymouth Prowler.

Gasoline has been cheap, and a thriving economy had allowed aging Baby Boomers to at least entertain notions of a new muscle car to cope with mid-life crisis. If people aren't buying them now, when would they? The outlook was bleak no matter how they sliced it.

So the F-body Camaro/Firebird, first launched in 1967, will go out of production in 2002, supplier and company sources tell Ward's. And there are already murmurs that the vehicles could resurface, a la Ford Thunderbird, years later with a retro design.

Likewise, Prowler takes a bow following the '01 model year due to the demise of the Plymouth nameplate. The roadster was launched in 1997, but has fallen below sales projections.

In its wake, DaimlerChrysler will bring to market another low-volume, niche vehicle to be built at DCC's Conner Avenue assembly facility in Detroit, which currently makes 14 Prowlers and eight Dodge Vipers daily.

"There will be another product behind the Prowler," promises John Hinckley, Conner Avenue plant manager. He says there are no plans to do away with Viper.

Meanwhile, GM has agreed to study various alternatives for its Ste. Therese plant in Quebec after the Camaro/Firebird's demise. Canadian Auto Workers President Basil (Buzz) Hargrove says the union's national contract with GM includes an agreement by the automaker not to close, sell or lease the 34-year-old facility during the life of the new contract, which will expire in September 2002.

It's been widely rumored that GM wants to close the plant. During the next three years, GM told the CAW, it would consider several options for Ste. Therese, including production of a niche vehicle and/or a joint venture.