Super Chevy Interview - The Man Behind The Camaro

Al Oppenheiser Knows More About The '10 Camaro Story Than Any Man Alive, And He Tells Super Chevy Most, But Not All, Of The Details.

AO: We did something for the enthusiasts who wanted us to get the car out on the road in a hurry. Last October 13, we opened the Chevy website to take early orders, not something we normally do on a new program, and by the end of the 2008 we had 13,000 early orders. Normally, we wouldn't start taking dealer orders until shortly before the start of production. So it did add to the time lag of those customers who placed early orders. We've got about 19,000 sold orders. We started production March 16.

The second thing that adds into it is that Chevrolet wanted to do a one-Camaro-per-dealer unveiling on May 6, so they wanted all the Chevrolet dealers to get a minimum of one Camaro, 4,000 units, and they wanted all of them to be silver V-6s, which we talked them out of. So that took 4,000 units right out of the customers' hands as dealer orders.

So we told some of the customers that they would be getting their cars at the dealers, but not until May 6. If you take those two factors into account, and then add our batch-and-hold process, where we hold all the cars for a minimum of 48 hours in order to catch any upstream quality or parts problems, that explains some of the delay

It was like the perfect storm. You've got a product that's been out of the market for eight years. You've got a very enthusiastic crowd. You've got a company that's in dire straits in terms of our viability. Our suppliers are struggling financially. You've got a year where Chevrolet could take over from Toyota in terms of quality. Very close. So we made a conscious decision to increase our batch-and-hold from 48 hours to where some cars will stay in our possession for up to two weeks. If we had an issue with parts, we wanted to make sure we had it solved before any cars got into customers' hands.

Fifty percent of those 19,000 orders are conquest sales, people who are going to give us one chance to build them a great car. So we made the decision to hold on to the cars. I think the initial frustration is behind us now. But you're right. If I were a customer, I would want to have all this explained.

SC: So, in hindsight, was that early order-taking a mistake?

AO: In hindsight, I would still have done it, with our financial situation, so we knew where we were, but maybe I would have sent out monthly updates on our progress to remind them that it would be six months from order to start of production. And perhaps to stop some of the rumors we had about supplier problems, which we didn't have. We worked every day of the Christmas shutdown to ensure that we would have an orderly transition with our suppliers, and we never lost a beat, never lost a single part. We definitely could have done a better job with communicating.

SC: So, are you at full production right now?

AO: Almost. We have an acceleration rate, and we are on the glide path to reach full production by June 9. We're building and shipping 350 to 375 cars per day on that glide path. It's going well. The global customer audit, our daily plant audit, shows that the Camaro is the best-quality car we build in North America.

SC: So, aside from the 19,000 orders, are new sales orders still coming in despite the lousy economy and the company's woes?

AO: The sales numbers coming in indicate that our market share of the sports car market is going up, up to 3.3 percent of the segment. That tells me that the sports car market is alive and growing. We have the Transformers movie coming out June 24, and we'll have a special Transformers version of the car, Bumblebee, unveiled on that same day.

SC: We understand that you have started putting weights on the brake calipers of Camaro SS models? Why? Will they be installed on all SS models from now on?

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