We were there, along with hundreds of crazed media types and Camaro fans from around the country. The introduction of the Concept Camaro generated much heat and frenzy at the Detroit Auto Show on the morning of January 9, 2006, but now that the excitement of the moment has faded a bit, we need to gauge the actual car.
Without a doubt, GM needs this car, a lot! The Mustang is a hit with its combination of retro look and up-to-date performance. Then there looks to be a Challenger ready to go into production soon, and that car looks like a clone of the original. Our first look at the Concept Camaro revealed a very strong influence from the First-Generation car with design cues from other GM models, although even while walking around the display minutes after the formal introduction of the car, we heard talk of how the front end had a Cadillac look, but was slightly more aggressive, and the rear reminded some of the Corvette. Most onlookers seemed to agree, however, that the superstructure, or upper-half had captured the First-Generation Camaro quite well. So is it too futuristic?
As one of GM's press releases states, the Concept Camaro is "a stunning mix of contemporary and traditional design cloaking state-of-the-art technology." The new technology is vital to this car as no one, not even "hardcore" Camaro enthusiasts want a return to drivetrains and suspensions of almost 40 years ago. What they DO want, however, is a car that is unmistakably a Camaro, even when seen from a distance. There is such a thing as "car DNA," which we have learned from our favorite GM sources means that a Camaro must have a V-8 engine, rear-wheel drive, stick-shift availability, two doors, and a profile that sets it off from anything else on the road. Every Camaro made between 1967 and 2002 had that DNA. As a matter of fact, C4 Corvettes were criticized because their profile was often mistaken for Camaros; but Camaros always looked like Camaros. So does the Concept car have that DNA? We believe it does, but is that enough to make it the car Camaro people want, and what is the DNA of a Camaro buyer?
During the time that Fourth-Generation Camaros were being produced (1993 through 2002; the Mustang outsold it by appealing to young people who didn't care whether the car had a V-8 or V-6 engine but wanted a cute, small car, often a convertible, for a reasonable price. Youthful buyers were attracted to the Mustang because they could get a V-6 convertible for somewhere around $25,000, whereas the base price of a Camaro convertible, with no options, was over $24,000 in model year 2000. The DNA of that Mustang buyer had no relationship to "hardcore" Pony car fans of the past, but Ford didn't care; it sold a lot of Mustangs. If GM wants to make the new Camaro a success, it needs to appeal to a wide marketplace. That means the car DNA has to be right, but it must attract buyers who ante up their hard-earned cash for different reasons.
Camaro enthusiasts who relate to the First and Second-Generation Camaros probably had experiences with these cars when they were in their 20s or 30s. Now they want a return to those glory days with the new Camaro. GM also needs to cultivate a whole new following of buyers, those NOW in their 20s or 30s, to make the Camaro a success and to breed brand loyalty, not just to Camaro but to all GM brands. So there is a fine line to walk. The true "retro" buyer probably can afford some nice cars but he or she may want the Camaro as a part-time fun machine and doesn't want it to look like the Cadillac or Lexus in the driveway, just drive like one. The "new breed" appreciates the look of the car, and can probably relate to it having that retro "musclecar" image, but they don't want to mortgage their future just to look cool and they want to drive it daily. If looking cool means an import, or a Mustang convertible with a V-6 and a sticker under $30K, the Camaro needs to be in that market or it really doesn't matter what it looks like.
We have heard reports that the targeted price point for the Concept Camaro is $25,000. Let's hope that can happen. We don't however see that price for a car equipped as the one pictured here. There is no need to mass market a new F-body with an independent suspension, a 400hp LS2, and a six-speed transmission. Those are great performance options but we suggest a basic package of a 200-plus-hp V-6, a reliable automatic trans, and a solid rear axle, none of which will interfere with the looks of the Camaro as finally released. Of course the price needs to be at that magic $25,000 or under to lure the youth market.
OK, that's what we see as the market considerations for the Concept Camaro. How about the design? We know there were at least two strong concepts still under consideration by GM as late as summer 2005. One had a great deal of retro looks, and the other, the one that made it to the Detroit Show, combined retro and modern. Once again, our GM sources have made it clear that "you can only go so far with retro." Using the Mustang again as an example, the question might be, what do you do for the next version if you start with retro? It's great to have a car that is selling like crazy and looks like a '69, but when you have to re-style it, do you do a '70 or '80? Where does it stop?
Another consideration is that the Concept Camaro isn't ready to be produced this year, and probably not next year. Rumors persist that the car won't be introduced to the public until the year 2009 but even if they beat that by a year, the current "retro" fad could be pass (is that redundant?) by then. The Mustang will most likely be ready for a re-design by then. Maybe if the Concept Camaro was in showrooms right now we could say it's the right car for this time, but if we wait three years the market could (and usually does) change rapidly. Our feelings about this car must be tempered with some idea of when it hits the street.
So is the Concept Camaro too futuristic? I personally like the design and would only tweak it mildly. We have to leave something to the aftermarket, you know. If set side-by-side with a Fourth-Generation Camaro, it definitely looks retro. As to what it looks like next to a First-Generation, it seems to "keep the faith" with much of that styling and is definitely a Camaro. Whatever else it is it needs to be in Chevrolet dealers' showrooms much sooner than 2009, and priced right. If GM uses the driveline and suspension components on the Concept car, which are available now, this is a car that could be in buyer's hands within two years. So maybe we should say that the acceptability of the Concept Camaro design is, as always, in the eyes of the beholder. The most futuristic part of the new Camaro may be when it will be introduced, and the sooner the better.