Car Guy

The Camaro’s Last Ride

Fortunately the Mustang remains in full gallop.

By 10.20.08

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GM must not like the Camaro very much -- or maybe never intended to sell many of them, at any rate.

Last week the automaker revealed pricing details about its soon-to-be resurrected Mustang-fighting pony coupe that indicate Mustang may not have to do very much fighting at all to hold on to its crown. The 2010 Camaro's base price will be $22,995 -- which isn't so bad. But the one that everyone wants -- the V-8 powered SS -- will start at $30,995.

Those numbers spell an early knockout for Camaro -- which I doubt will last two years on the market, if that.

For openers, times are about as bad as they possibly can be for any car like Camaro -- not merely Camaro. Useless back seats and tiny trunk; terrible in snow (being rear-wheel-drive), fairly expensive -- and hungry for gas. Not a winning sell when gas threatens to needle up to $4 per gallon at any time and, more significantly, most people simply don't have either the disposable income or the confidence in the economy that's necessary to support the market for what are, at the core of it, frivolous cars purchased because they are fun.

When people are worried about the mortgage, keeping their jobs, decimated stock portfolios and finding a way to fund their kids' college tuition, buying a car -- any car -- is low on the list of things to do. Buying a high-performance/sporty two-plus-two doesn't even register.

So, Camaro starts out with one foot in the grave before the first one even reaches a dealership.

GM's insane pricing structure merely slams the coffin lid shut.

The V-8 SS starts at nearly $31k -- before adding a single option, before the inevitable dealer gouging. Expect the "out the door" cost of a new Camaro SS to be closer to $35k -- if not $40k.

Meanwhile, Ford is selling new Mustang GTs for $26,775 -- and that's very negotiable.

Now, it's true the SS Camaro will have a larger engine that makes considerably more horsepower than the Mustang GT's V-8. But GM has a short memory -- and forgets the same was true from the mid-late 1980s all the way through 2002 -- when the previous Camaro (and its now-defunct corporate cousin, the Pontiac Firebird) were canceled. The much less powerful Mustang GT outsold the Camaro and Firebird combined by a margin of 3-1.

History is about to repeat itself.

GM continues to obsess about the Camaro's cojones -- but history and current market facts prove that horsepower isn't everything. It's the total package that sells the car, not just what's under the hood -- and Ford continues to bitch slap GM on this point, even if the Mustang loses to Camaro on the drag strip.

For one, $31k is way too much money. By pricing the SS almost $4,500 higher than Mustang -- its obvious and primary competitor -- GM has assured Mustang will continue to not merely outsell Camaro, but to outlast it as well.

Again.


IT'S POSSIBLE FOR large numbers of under-35s to buy a new Mustang GT. They can - and they do. But a $35k Camaro is a car for the over-40s and those guys (if they have the money) tend to want something more age-appropriate. A BMW 3-Series or Infiniti G, for instance.

Or they have kids -- and have to have four doors.

The base Camaro, meanwhile, is almost as badly gimped from the get-go as its SS big brother. GM chubbs up about the fact that the base V-6 Camaro will have as much rated hp (300) as the V-8 powered Mustang. That is indeed impressive. But GM forgets that high-horsepower is not a priority for people who buy the base versions of cars like Camaro -- and Mustang.

What they want is an affordable sporty coupe -- emphasis on affordable.

But the Camaro V-6 starts at nearly $23k - which is more than three thousand dollars higher than the base V-6 Mustang's MSRP of $19,995. Three grand is no small change at this price point. Bet your bippie it will be a huge factor when it gets down to making a buying decision.

GM thinks the extra power justifies the extra cost -- but let me say it again: The people who buy the standard version of cars like Camaro and Mustang are not looking for sizzling 0-60 times and rumbly exhaust notes. Frankly, they don't care what's under the hood (so long as there's adequate power to move the car comfortably).

What they care about is on the window sticker.

Think I'm wrong? Then check how many base Mustangs Ford sells each year. The base car is the volume car -- not the GT. And it is the volume car because -- say it again, Sam -- it is inexpensive. That is what people who buy the base car care about. Few of them seem to mind at all that the base car has "only" 210 hp. It seems to be plenty.

And they also care about, you know, fuel economy.

A 300 hp V-6 is going to cost a lot more to feed than a 200-something hp V-6. The figures aren't yet available, but the same basic 3.6 liter V-6 engine GM will use in the 2010 Camaro is currently in service in some other GM models -- where it gets about 16 mpg in city driving and 25 on the highway.

That's not awful -- but in a word of $4 gas, it's not acceptable, either. Not when there are literally a dozen other sporty two-doors available that are equally cute and fun to drive but which also deliver closer to 30 mpg. (Speaking of which: Ford reportedly will offer a high-efficiency V-6 as the base power plant of the next-generation Mustang, scheduled to appear in 2010.)

Add a much more expensive sticker price with a higher cost to feed and what do you get?

Lots of Camaros sitting on dealers lots.

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About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.