General Motors Corp.'s revival of the Camaro has solidified the trend toward rear-wheel-drive passenger cars in the U.S. — a market that at least one analyst sees eclipsing 1 million units by 2011.
GM plans initial Camaro production of about 100,000 units for North America when it bows in first-quarter 2009.
Camaro could be crashing a RWD party in full swing by the time it debuts.
Chevrolet is looking into a slightly larger, RWD replacement for the Impala sedan.
Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper recently told Ward's a RWD Impala and a front-wheel-drive Malibu would present consumers with more options, compared with rival auto makers that offer only FWD midsize cars.
Meanwhile, Pontiac is exploring ways to adapt a RWD architecture for an affordable model. GM is said to be exploring everything from a new GTO to a G8 sedan, a revived Firebird and a rebadged Holden Commodore from the new RWD platform (see story, p.8). Buick also is expected to garner a Park Avenue replacement from the Holden-developed RWD architecture.
The OEM maneuvering on RWD vehicles is enough for Global Insight Senior Analyst John Wolkonowicz to forecast the U.S. RWD market will reach 1 million vehicles by 2011. Sales of RWD sedans increased 10.5% in 2005. Market share of 5.3% grew from 4.8% in 2004, a notable uptick from 1999's 4.1%.
Ten years ago, sales of FWD Large-Luxury cars outdid RWD by close to a 2:1 ratio, according to Ward's. Last year, the ratio was nearly even with FWD cars at 906,832 units and RWD models at 893,559.
“Rear-wheel drive will be the savior of the domestic passenger-car industry if they are properly played by GM, Ford and Chrysler,” Wolkonowicz says.
Wolkonowicz says the OEMs only are scratching the surface of RWD demand, especially if they are able to deploy the architecture for non-muscle cars.
“Toyota, with all its money, can't copy this,” he says of recent success by the domestic auto makers with fullsize RWD vehicles. Chrysler's gutsy move to switch its FWD large sedans to RWD in 2004 reversed the auto maker's fortunes.
The '05 Chrysler 300 went into production in February 2004 and never looked back. The sedan sold 144,048 units in 2005 and is pacing strong, with 83,772, for the first seven months of 2006. The LX platform expanded the family with the Dodge Charger (67,079 sold through July) and the Dodge Magnum (23,731), according to Ward's data.
Cadillac also has been switching almost its entire model lineup back to its RWD roots, and German luxury brands have adhered steadfastly to RWD.
Some Asian auto makers also are interested in getting in the game.
Hyundai Motor America continues to examine the possibility of introducing RWD vehicles in the U.S., including studies into development of a RWD version of the current FWD Tiburon sport coupe.