Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – High gasoline prices and mounting pressure for higher fuel economy doesn’t appear to be curbing pre-launch demand for Chevrolet’s upcoming Camaro, but General Motors Corp. may try to shed the sports coupe’s “muscle car” designation just the same.

“We’ll start to take orders late this summer or early this fall and will let people know when,” Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper says in an interview at the auto show here. “We’ve already had 500,000 hand raisers. We’ll start to build it in February (of 2009) and will have it in showrooms in mid-March or early April.”

Chrysler LLC has seen similar reaction to its high-performance ’08 dodge Challenger SRT8, unveiled here.

Peper says he is unconcerned about the prospects of selling the high-performance car in a climate of high gasoline prices.

“Some will be sold to enthusiasts,” he says. “But it’s not being sold as a muscle car but as a fun-to-drive car that looks great. It’s an outstanding package with the V-6.”

Adds GM’s marketing chief Mark LaNeve: “It’s a sporty car that you can option up to a high-performance car. With the V-6, the fuel efficiency is better than most cars on the road.”

Peper says GM still is trying to determine what the demand mix will be for the V-6 vs. the V-8 and the coupe vs. the convertible – although the ragtop version won’t arrive until a year after the coupe bows.

“I suspect we’ll build more V-8s at the start, (with) a 60/40 V-8 to V-6 mix, then go to more V-6s,” he says. “The hardcore enthusiasts want the V-8; the young want the V-6, which still will deliver 300 hp yet get 29 mpg (8.1 L/100 km on the highway).

“Once the convertible is added, the split will probably be 80% coupe/20% convertible.”

Also to be determined is how the car will be allocated around the country.

“California, Miami, L.A., and New York are strong convertible markets, but we haven’t decided who gets the car first,” Peper says.

LaNeve indicates the Camaro won’t need too much more help in the way of marketing.

“The ‘Transformer’ movie (in which the car had a starring role) was bigger than any ad we could have done,” he says. “There’s a reasonable chance there will be a ‘Transformer II’ and Camaro will be involved. We’ve had people eight to 80 ask for information on the car, and people who have sent us checks to get on a waiting list.

“Malibu re-established our car credentials, and Camaro will add pop and sizzle to our car line.”

Regarding its red-hot Chevrolet Malibu sedan, GM says it is carefully controlling output so as not to oversaturate the market.

“We want to manage capacity and keep it in line with demand,” says Troy Clarke, president-GM North America. “We are somewhat constrained by parts. We can sell 200,000 the first year, with 180,000 of them in the U.S., the others in Mexico and Canada.”