The fate of the slow selling Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird and the plant in Ste. Therese, Que., that makes the sports cars may no longer be intertwined.

Supplier and company sources tell Ward's the F-body cars will go out of production in 2002 and may resurface, a la Ford Thunderbird, years later with a retro design. Meanwhile, General Motors Corp. has agreed to study various alternatives for Ste. Therese after the Camaro/Firebird's demise in three years. Canadian Auto Workers President Basil (Buzz) Hargrove told reporters last week that the union's tentative 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 GM wants to close the plant due to declining demand for Camaro/Firebird. Selling or leasing the plant to Magna Inc. also has been reported.

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. “Basically what we're trying to do is have a very open and broad perspective for future prospects for the plant,” says a GM of Canada Ltd. spokesman.

However, while GM doesn't rule it out, options for the facility don't seem to include the Camaro/Firebird, which apparently are on their way out of Ste. Therese, where they have been made since 1993, and bound for the history books, at least for a few years. Several supplier sources say GM has told them the sports cars will go out of production in 2002. But there is disagreement as to whether it will be the '02 or '03 model year. For instance, one supplier says plans indicate the Camaro/Firebird platform goes away in '02 and its engines in '03. The confusion may be due to a lifecycle extension given to the cars within the last year. Original plans called for the Camaro/Firebird going out of production prior to 2002, a company insider says.

However, the brands likely will resurface, GM sources says. But, according to current program plans, it won't be before '05, suppliers say. GM insiders say the 1969 Camaro is being considered as inspiration for the overhaul. “We are developing new rear-wheel drive platforms,” says one company source.

If Camaro/Firebird return to production and need a new assembly site, an answer could be GM's Bowling Green, KY, plant. Besides Ste. Therese, it's presently the only GM assembly complex in the U.S. or Canada that works one shift. It currently makes the rear-wheel drive Corvette, and already has plans to make another rear-drive in 2002, the Cadillac Evoq (see Ward's Automotive Reports — June 28, '99, p.1).

GM won't comment on any future Camaro/Firebird possibilities.

“There's been just so much speculation,” says a Chevrolet executive. “But in terms of us commenting on future production plans, for competitive reasons, I just can't do it.”