The on again off again proposal to bring US muscle car icon the Camaro to Australia appears to be on again, after GM vice chairman Bob Lutz told journalists in Detroit today (Tuesday) that a right hand drive program for the performance coupe was underway.
Speaking at the Detroit motor show Mr Lutz surprised journalists by declaring that a right-hand drive version of the car, that has been one of the few successes for GM in an otherwise bleak 2009, would soon be built and exported to right hand drive (rhd) markets including Australia from a plant in Canada.
Holden has been intimately involved with this, the fifth generation Camaro from its inception, having led the engineering and development program due to the car being based on the same Zeta, rear wheel drive platform as the Commodore.
Given the Holden connection, and Australia's love of V8 performance cars, it was long assumed we'd be an obvious market for the muscular V8 and V6-powered coupe. This idea was given additional credence by the fact Holden had axed its home-grown Monaro coupe not long before the Camaro program was announced. Many pundits thought the Camaro an obvious replacement for Holden's home-grown coupe, which ceased production in 2005.
The global financial crisis prematurely snuffed out GM's plans to develop a rhd Camaro, however, leaving fans to rue what might have been as a desperate GM diverted resources to survive the financial crisis and its own ensuing bankruptcy.
Now, with GM having undergone radical surgery, and the company reinvigorated by the injection of billions of dollars of US taxpayer money, it appears a Camaro export program is once again on the agenda.
Speaking in relation to GM's current range Mr Lutz told journalists, "...we now have a golden opportunity to export from the United States; with the weak dollar and our cost competitiveness, and with the excellence of the product, we really should be pushing products to all regions, left hand drive and right hand drive. He added, "I think you can pretty well count on a right hand drive Camaro..."
Mr Lutz said the Camaro would be "built in the plant in Canada and shipped from here in right hand drive for right hand drive markets. "Most of the parts are there, all we have to do really is reverse the instrument panel, but all of the right hand drive bits are kind of a given because of the fact it's a Holden architecture."
The plant in question is GM's Ottawa, Ontario manufacturing facility which until now has been running at capacity supplying Camaros to the US market. Holden Chairman and managing director Alan Batey, though emphatic that he'd love to have the Camaro in his Australian portfolio, pointed to supply and demand issues with the factory as a possible stumbling block. "Would we in Australia love to see the car happen? I think based on customer response and some of the things we've seen and some of the response we've had from some of the journos who've driven the car, it's been very positive. So I don't see any downside in it. Would I like it to happen? Yeah, it'd be great (as) it would just add some excitement to our portfolio," Mr Batey said.
"Can it happen fast? Yes it can because all the work is done, the engineering configuration is done; it's just a case of releasing the module, releasing the parts, and finding the capacity to build it."
However, Mr Batey said Holden has had its hand up for the Camaro since doing the development work on the production car and that for the program to stand a chance of success issues surrounding rhd approval and factory capacity needed to be resolved quickly, while the car is still a relatively new model.
"I want the car as quickly as they can get it to me, but they've (GM) got some work to do to be able to get the car to me," he said.
A 2010 on-sale date was categorically ruled out by the Holden boss, but he indicated 2011 was a possibility. When pressed on sales volume and pricing Mr Batey predicted the Camaro would sell at approximately half the volume of the Monaro, which in its heyday sold between 3000 and 4000 units, and that this in turn meant it would need to support a price of between $75,000 and $100,000 in Australia in order to be viable.
As to the question of whether it would be a Holden Camaro or a Chevy Camaro, Mr Batey indicated it was unlikely the iconic pony car brand would be sold as anything but a Chevrolet.