North American Int’l Auto ShowDETROIT – Now that the Chevrolet Camaro concept is out in the open, the suspense builds as to whether General Motors Corp. will build it.

GM unveiled the return of the Camaro at the North American International Auto Show here. (See related story: GM Muscles Into Pony Car Wars With Camaro )

“Right now, it’s purely a concept,” Bob Lutz, vice chairman-product development, says of the 4-passenger coupe.

But it is production ready, he confirms.

“It was designed over a production architecture using production mechanical units,” he says. “If and when there should be a production car, it would be as close to this as the production Solstice was to the concept car.”

The car would come from GM’s pending rear-wheel-drive car platform known as Zeta.

The impression has been the program was killed in its infancy in North America when the auto maker decided to re-arrange resources to pull ahead its profitable GMT900 platform of fullsize SUVs and pickups.

Chevrolet Camaro concept

Zeta is not dead, Lutz says. “It was only in a state of slumber, because that was one we had to stop and start over again. We didn’t like the economics the first time around.”

The global architecture will produce products for two, maybe three continents, he says. So the underpinnings are there.

And the enthusiasm is there. Lutz says he has been bombarded with mail from Camaro lovers since he rejoined GM four years ago.

“When you have that kind of public response, it becomes easier to make the decision because you’re taking the risk out.”

The potential stumbling block is overall workload.

“The question is how soon could we handle it from an engineering workload standpoint, and where does this fit in our priority ranks. We can’t always just follow our enthusiasm. We have to do what’s right for the business.”

Lutz says a decision on feasibility should only be a matter of months, noting it took six months to get the numbers together to OK the Pontiac Solstice first shown on last year’s show circuit.

The new Camaro would need 150,000-160,000 sales a year to be feasible, he says. It likely would be priced slightly higher than the Solstice, which starts under $20,000.

Lutz says if the car goes into production, the model range would run from an affordable model with a V-6 to a high performance version, with a series of V-8s in the middle. Every V-8 GM makes potentially has an application, he says.

It is a strategy Camaro followed in the past and the Ford Mustang has exploited successfully.

The falloff in popularity of muscle cars and resultant slow sales led to GM’s decision to abandon the segment. Production of the Camaro and Pontiac Firebird was discontinued in 2002 and GM shuttered the Ste. Therese, Que., Canada, plant in preparation for demolition.

Lutz says when it closed Ste. Therese, it promised the Canadian Auto Workers union it would not move Camaro production to another plant.

“Five years has gone by. This is an entirely different car. We believe we have fulfilled the obligation of not moving the car,” he says.

He does not reveal possible locations to build a new Camaro.

GM unveiled the muscle car a day after announcing plans to increase its hybrid-electric vehicle lineup.

The juxtaposition reflects the fact there are two markets today, Lutz says. “The whole country is schizophrenic.”

One end of the market is crying for hybrids, fuel cells and environmental sensitivity, while the other end wants more horsepower from a V-8, a V-10 and a V-12. Hollywood types have a Lamborghini Gallardo and a Toyota Prius in the same garage, he says.

apriddle@primediabusiness.com