General Motors Corp.'s decision to build an '09 production version of the '69-inspired Chevrolet Camaro concept has solidified the trend toward rear-wheel-drive cars in the U.S. — a market that at least one analyst sees eclipsing 1 million vehicles by 2011.
GM plans initial Camaro production of about 100,000 units for North America when it bows in first-quarter 2009.
The front-engine, RWD sport coupe will feature an independent rear suspension, with V-6 and V-8 engine options.
The American “nostalgia” cars, as many have dubbed them, are seen as more resistant to competition from overseas imports. But the Camaro announcement, on the heels of Chrysler's Group's decision to put the Dodge Challenger into production in April 2008, is rekindling the domestic pony car wars of yesteryear.
“We're flattered that (GM has) looked at our success in the sport segment,” says Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co. president-The Americas, in reaction to the Camaro greenlight.
The '05 Ford Mustang revived the modern muscle-car market when it bowed in the fall of 2004.
Chrysler skirted the segment with the Dodge Charger, a 4-door RWD sedan, but plans to solidify its presence with the 2-door '08 Challenger, reviving the nameplate after 25 years in hibernation.
Fields notes Ford will not sit on its Mustang laurels, announcing it will roll out a consumer version of the GT-H, the so-called “Rent-a-Racer” offered by Hertz Corp. The new variant will be called the Ford Shelby GT, powered by a 4.6L V-8 that produces 325 hp.
“This is not a one-trick pony,” Fields tells Ward's. “We want to make sure every year we have product news on the Mustang.”
GM's Camaro could be crashing a RWD party in full swing by the time it bows in 2009.
Chevrolet is looking into a slightly larger, RWD replacement for the Impala, aimed at separating the car both in size and character from the midsize Malibu.
Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper tells 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, which will offer fewer products in the future in an effort to reconnect with its performance heritage, is exploring ways to adapt a RWD architecture for an affordable model.
With the under-performing GTO out of production after two years, the Solstice roadster is the brand's only RWD vehicle.
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. Buick also is expected to garner a Park Avenue replacement from the architecture.
“Rear-wheel drive does offer challenges,” a Pontiac spokesman says. “But that's not saying that if you build a vehicle it can't be made affordable. That would be something we would be insisting on for a RWD vehicle, whatever form that would take.”
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.
Ward's data shows sales of sedans built on RWD platforms in the Large and Luxury Car Groups bolstered passenger-car sales in 2005.
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%, when such vehicles last hit a trough.
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.