Revamped Camaro Muscles Back into GM Lineup

Mark Phelen, auto critic for The Detroit Free Press, talks about how General Motors is poised to introduce an updated version of the Chevy Camaro to the market.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

And now another story from the business world. Over the weekend, a lone report about the much-loved Chevy Camaro began to grow into a rumble. Fans of the classic muscle car, first introduced in 1967 as a response to Ford's Mustang, await an official announcement from GM this week.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, GM is poised to reintroduce an updated version of the car. The sleek new concept for the Camaro was unveiled in January at the North American International Car Show in Detroit. And it was, apparently, a show stealer.

Mark Phelan is an auto critic for the Detroit Free Press and he was one of the writers who broke the story. He joins us by phone from his home in Ferndale, Michigan.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. MARK PHELAN (Auto Critic, Detroit Free Press): It's my pleasure.

NEARY: What's so big deal about the Camaro, first of all?

Mr. PHELAN: Well, it's one of the great names from, you know, the hey-day of Chevrolet and General Motors. And there's a tremendous affection for it, in addition to the fact that, you know, people always seemed to be eager to buy a good-looking car with good performance at a reasonable price.

NEARY: And so why is the reintroduction, then, such a big deal? I mean, back then was it sort of a romantic kind of car? I don't know too much about cars. You can tell that from what I'm saying.

Mr. PHELAN: They're hoping that it will appeal to two different groups of people, the folks, you know, who are now in the 40s and older who saw the Camaros when they were kids and they thought some day I'm going to own one of those, and a younger generation who's interested in something, you know, that's more contemporary but, you know, still has, you know, styling flair and performance.

So they're hoping to, you know, sort of meld, you know, the old legend with, you know, contemporary efficiency.

NEARY: Well, tell us what this new Camaro looks like and why it's such a show stealer.

Mr. PHELAN: Well, the thing that I loved about it is that if you saw it, it's immediately recognizable as a Camaro. It's got the same proportions, the hunched-forward stance, the low, narrow grill with the lights out at the end, and the flaired rear fenders.

But at the same time, they did a lot of things to make the styling more contemporary. So it's not just a copy of the original. You know, they added some things that are borrowed from the current Chevy Corvette.

They took some ideas from the design of an experimental fighter plane that was being worked on a few years ago. And borrowing from aerospace design is kind of a long tradition with GM, and it's led to some very good things in the past.

NEARY: Now, how much does it look like the old one?

Mr. PHELAN: Enough so that you would recognize it. If you just saw the silhouette from the side, you'd almost certainly, you know, be able to tell, you know, that it's a Camaro.

It has the same proportions, you know, the same face with the, you know, narrow grill and the wide headlights and the big, fat rear tires.

NEARY: I gather that the original Camaro was - had a big appeal for young people. Is this new version going to appeal to young people as well?

Mr. PHELAN: Well, they're hoping so. I mean, if the only people they get are the nostalgia buyers, you know, that, you know, gives you a business case for a year or two. But, you know, after, you know, the first, you know, 60 or 70,000 people have bought them, what do you do then?

So they're trying very hard to reach out to, you know, people who, you know, never even sat in a Camaro, but they liked the idea of, you know, aggressive, muscular looks. And you know, they're hoping to offer pretty good fuel economy as well.

NEARY: This is something of a trend in the car business. Ford introduced a new version of Mustang. Dodge is planning to reissue a new version of the Challenger.

Clearly they're thinking that there's good business in this. Why?

Mr. PHELAN: Absolutely. Well, part of it is, you know, the idea that, you know, beautiful styling and affordable price should never go out of fashion. But there's also the fact that, you know, these brands have got, you know, a tradition that, you know, goes back, you know, over a hundred years in this market.

And if they can tap into that, but add something more than just the appeal of nostalgia, that gives them an advantage, you know, over other brands. And the Mustang is, you know, a case of terrific success that's done really better than even those of us who are fans of the car expected when they first introduced it.

NEARY: How about mileage? That's becoming more and more important for new car buyers these days. How's the Camaro perform in mileage?

Mr. PHELAN: Well, they haven't given us any official numbers yet. But the concept car that I drove had a 400 horsepower V-8 engine. And they said that, you know, running all the calculations on it, they figured that it should be over 30 miles a gallon on the highway.

And when they produce it, there will also be a somewhat less powerful V-6. And you know, if the V-8 is over 30 miles a gallon, you have to figure that, you know, the V-6 will be, you know, 34, 35 miles a gallon.

And I think that's, you know, that's a pretty appealing number.

NEARY: All right. Thanks for joining us, Mark.

Mr. PHELAN: My pleasure.

NEARY: Mark Phelan is an auto critic for the Detroit Free Press. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

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