Just Don't Call it a Muscle Car

Posted by: David Welch on March 19, 2008

General Motors, eager to flog its reputation as a green company, has a slight problem. One of its most high-profile new cars will be the Chevrolet Camaro coming out next year. With its muscle car heritage and optional V-8 engine, the Camaro is hardly the statement of green, high-tech modernism that every carmaker is trying to broadcast these days. Ditto for the Dodge Challenger, which Chrysler showed at the New York Auto Show today. Arguably, both cars say that these companies are stuck in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

GM thinks it has a solution. Just don’t call the Camaro a muscle car. Mark LaNeve, GM-North America’s vice president of sales and marketing, says he wants to advertise the car’s sporty ride and handling, bold styling and (get this) its fuel economy when Chevrolet launches the car next year. When equipped with a V-6 engine, the car should get about 28 miles per gallon on the highway, La Neve says. “We won’t position it as a muscle car,” he says. “The mainstream positioning will be fuel economy, design and a V-6.”

That will require a real sales job. But Chevy has no choice. GM’s biggest-selling division has to transcend its roots as a maker of performance cars like the Corvette, big trucks and NASCAR. Otherwise today’s car buyers, now looking more and more for gas sippers, will drive right on by. Today, Chevy buyers say fuel economy is the third qualification on their list for buying a car. A couple years ago it was 8th or 9th, says Brent Dewar, GM-North America Vice President of sales, service and parts. GM is trying to gain some green cred with marketing chops like its “Gas-Friendly, Gas-Free” campaign, which touts GM’s foray into technologies like ethanol-powered engines, hybrids and its research into hydrogen fuel cells. “It’s a marketing challenge when you make a paradigm change,” Dewar says. The same could be said for marketing a fuel-efficient Camaro.

Reader Comments

Noz

March 19, 2008 7:52 PM

s sales job indeed! A gaz-sipping V-6 Camero, made even more attractive to the no-nothings with its ability to burn high ethanol content fuel? As with Ford, I suppose some kind of zippy slogan is needed to aid in shoving these things off the lots and onto the streets. The ad man's worst nightmare if he is held responsible for sales rather than the 'suits' who made this thing available.

Cameros, regardless of their engines, are not generally purchased to be driven with an egg under one's throttle foot. Nor are Challengers. These are 'statement' cars designed to bolster sagging self-esteem, to turn wimpy boys into macho men, all that pathological/psychological nonsense. And as to the capability of consuming ethanol, this is a cruel joke that is just about now being better understood by the gullible masses, the scientifically challenged turned out during the past couple of generations. The growing of the grains used in the production of ethanol is costing us a fortune at the grocery store as seen in the escalating prices of dairy, grain items such as cereals and breads, meats and eggs. Then there are the various Gov't subsidies involved, so-called indirect costs, or at least invisible to we the people. Vast land tracts are being cleared for growing additional feed stocks. And all this time we are actively keeping out (by way of a punitive tariff) what Brazil could supply, this to protect those growers within our borders. And finally, the burning of E85 will cut down on one's mileage by 25% or so due to the fact that ethanol contains less energy than the similar volume of gasoline. Even the 10% ethanol product , so common and mandated by various layers of government, is costing us in mileage, but it is more difficult to 'feel'.

So once again, GM is turning out the wrong cars for the times, each being another nail it its coffin. GM can brag about alternate technologies all it wants. Hydrogen is way out there in the future somewhere. First has to come a very clean and cheap means of generating vast quantities electricity just to make the hydrogen. This translates into just one thing, a huge number of NEW nuclear plants. And lots of luck shoving this down the fat throat of Al Gore and the Sierra Club. Forget the windmills and the acres of solar collectors. One requires a steady wind, the other constant sunlight. And finally, GM's version of the hybrid is a joke well beyond being funny. At a cost of $2000 or so to boost 'economy 1mpg as with the Tahoe? What are those folks smoking?

Joe Savage

March 20, 2008 5:53 PM

The reader who posted the above comment has shown himself/herself to be quite ignorant. The comment is dripping with many inaccuracies. To start the reader stated that the production of ethanol is the cause of the rising food prices; while this is true to an extent, a less naive mind understands that the greater cause of rising food prices is caused by the soaring cost of transporting these goods to the grocery stores where you purchase them. We can blame the cost of diesel for that as we have seen it rise to a cost per gallon of over 4 dollars. The reader also naïve enough to diagnose all Camaro drivers as being pathological, as someone with MS in psychology I have to laugh, as I don’t believe all Camaro drivers are making up for a lack of self-esteem or even inadequacies. Did the reader ever consider that some people may drive a camaro simply because they are fun to drive? In answer, I don’t believe so. While I don’t suppose all Camaro drivers suffer from pathological disorders I can see where the author of the previous comment may be suffering with some pathological issues as he/she lashes out at members of society in a state of naïve anger.

Tom at GM

March 21, 2008 8:52 AM

The reality is that full-line carmakers like GM and Toyota will continue to sell vehicles for "every purse and purpose." Even with greater concern for fuel economy and carbon emissions, there will always be a fair number of people who will value performance and style over ultimate efficiency. Even in Europe. which has had high fuel prices for years, there are still fans of Porsches and Bentleys and Land Rovers.

During the 1980s, the last period of high fuel prices, there were plenty of cars that were both sporty and reasonably fuel efficient, and plenty of people who loved these cars. No reason to think the next 10 years will be any different.

John Rogers

March 21, 2008 11:20 AM

Set aside Noz’s psycho babble some people really enjoy driving. Those people want to spend time in a car with plenty of power, good handling traits and something pleasing to the eye while they wax it. Most Challenger and Camaro fans grew up enjoying the turning of wrenches in their youth, proving their skills on the track and street. Speed still thrills perhaps Noz goes to an amusement park for the cuisine. Camaro buyers won’t need advertising and most likely will chuckle at “Green” Camaro ads. GM should market the Camaro at the youth who drive sport pick up trucks because affordable RWD V8 cars almost vanished while they we’re growing up. “Green” Camaro ad dollars are a waste of resources, spend that money on real “green vehicles”.

Hu

March 21, 2008 11:50 AM

You know, I'm tired of hearing people say that the Mustang/Camaro/Challenger et al are the wrong cars at the wrong time or that the big three are stuck in the '60s and '70s.
There are tens of thousands (and I would say hundreds of thousands if you combine all the sports car buyers out there) of people interested in these vehicles. Why shouldn't they have a vehicle they want?
People have been clamoring for the return of muscle cars since they went away in the early to mid '70s. Now that they're back, we get all these mis-guided import loving idiots and tree hugging greenies just foaming at the mouths to tear the big three down.
The truth of the matter is, most of these "muscle cars" will rarely see the light of day. Most buyers of these cars will be better off people in their 40s and 50s who remember the heyday of the American auto industry and the original muscle cars. They were either too young or not well off enough to buy one originally but they are now.
So they buy the most powerful version of the car and stick it in their garage,only for use on a nice Sunday or to take to a car show.
What is the problem with that?
And even if "regular" folk buy the V-6 versions to drive everyday, who's business is it of anyone else's what they buy and drive? If the consumer likes it and can afford it, more power to him.
I will go on to say that the new Camaro is Chevrolet's best looking car in the last 30-35 years!
Oh, and by the way, I WILL have the fastest, meanest Camaro convertible when it comes out. And I'll park it in my garage right next to my '02 Trans Am C/E, '07 Solstice GXP, and '69 LeMans.

Marc Escuro

March 22, 2008 2:00 PM

First of all... there's a typo in the title. How about some basic proofreading Businessweek!!
"Just Don't Call is a Muscle Car" Yeaaa, right.

Second of all, GM's marketing couldn't even market a paper bag. And their executives come off as bitchy and whiny. They come off as having an attitude when it comes to fuel efficiency and being green. Now they are "forced" to marketing the Camaro as something that is not a muscle car.

Well, I'm sorry, but that is one of the most pathetic things to come out of GM. If GM was so damned concerned about fuel efficiency, they could have made the Malibu into a coupe and call it "Camaro."

Camaro is a muscle car. Anything LESS than that is detrimental to the name. So any marketing student knows that you need to spin the image. But you need to concentrate on what the Camaro is -- a muscle car.

"A Muscle Car for the Modern Era." Play up the fact that it has a Turbo!!

GM couldn't do it if its life depended on it. Because they just don't know how!

RC

March 23, 2008 3:34 PM

This is the same company who is trying to sell 20mpg crossovers/station wagonswhile and trucks while Honda and Toyota are head to 40mpg units and building these units in North America. To many MBA's at GM not enough car people plan and simple...

Hu

March 24, 2008 1:36 PM

TO RC:
Toyota is heading to 40 MPG units?
Now would that be with the new full size Tundra pick-up or the new full size Sequoia SUV? Or maybe it's both.
You know those 2 vehicles, don't you RC? I mean, Toyota HAS been advertising the HECK out of these 2 vehicles lately. Especially with their large V-8 engines.

Hmm. I'l have to check those vehicles out. Last time I checked, the got somewhere around 13 city/19 hwy.

But RC, if you say that they're "heading" to 40 mpg, then they must be. Wow, what an engineering feat that is.

mike

March 25, 2008 5:30 AM

Silly slickery sick! Challenger/Camaro/Mustang are best american made ever, but 13 mpg is so 70's (or 80's naaahhhh). Gimme 40 mpg (Orange) Challenger or i'll keep my Miata in the garage!

Tony

March 27, 2008 2:21 PM

Neither the Challenger nor the Camaro will be built in the USA.

Chad Vance

May 1, 2008 11:36 PM

Hey the new Mustang GT with a five speed and K&N filter gets an honest 28mpg on the highway and 25 in town. The new Camero with the V8 will get in the upper 20's. Thats actually pretty good when just about everyone other than Honda has four cylinders making about the same milage just so they can have the most powerful sub compact rice rocket. The new Subaru outback with the standard four cylinder only gets 27mpg on the highway. My 72 Cutlass has four barrel V8 and gets 22 on the highway and it didn't cost almost 30 grand. The new American V8 engines are getting more efficient and the 4 bangers are getting more powerful and less efficient every year. To be realistic about it your average midsize or large V6 in a passenger car is going to get better milage with the tipical driver because they wont ring the guts out of the thing like they would a 4cylinder car. There are exceptions but not everyone likes Honda civics or can afford one of the hybrids that actually gets the milage it should. I'd rather have a safe, fun, and exciting car to drive and learn how to drive efficiently as well as drive less than drive some tiny subcompact terd that should be getting 45, 50, or more miles per gallon instead of 30 or 32. Hey almost every compact built in the late 80's and early 90's got 35 and up mpg. Why are little cars getting faster, heavier, and less efficient? I don't need a truck or an suv so I'd rather have the Camero than some jelly bean shaped wiz bang four cylinder car that only gets mileage in the upper 20's when driven in the real world.
And yes GM will find a way to ruin the marketing. That's what they do. But it wont matter because the Camero looks cool and goes real fast, really easy. It will pretty much sale itself.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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