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Pony cars: Will they return to the range?

Orlando Sentinel
Published January 19, 2006

The twin highlights of an otherwise tepid 2006 North American International Auto Show were, inarguably, the retro-styled, V-8-powered concept versions of the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. Adding to the excitement was the suggestion by coy General Motors and DaimlerChrysler executives that yes, both cars just might be produced and sold in the next few years.

Equally indisputable is that if the new-for-2005 Ford Mustang wasn't such an enormous sales success, we wouldn't be seeing a new Camaro and Challenger.

Which brings us to this obvious question: If the Camaro and Challenger were so great, why did they stop building them?

Let's start with the Dodge Challenger. In 1964, sister company Plymouth began building the Barracuda -- essentially a fastback option package for the Valiant -- as a way to counter the then-new Ford Mustang. For 1970, there was an all-new Barracuda, and Dodge decided to jump aboard with the Challenger, which shared a profile and a whole bunch of other parts with the Barracuda. The Challenger sold well that first year, but sales dropped the second year. By 1974, the Challenger and the Barracuda were doomed. Well, with one footnote: Dodge revived the Challenger name in 1978 to stick on a Mitsubishi-built four-cylinder coupe. Few cared.

The Camaro story is more familiar. It and its corporate cousin, the Pontiac Firebird, debuted in 1967, were moderately restyled in 1969, totally restyled in 1970. Sales remained pretty strong through the 1980s, into the 1990s, and then -- well, it seemed as if GM sort of lost interest. By the time the last Camaro was built -- August 27, 2002 -- the car had suffered from corporate neglect. The Camaro and Firebird shared few parts with other GM cars. GM made a business case for closing the Canadian plant where both were built, and the two cars just faded away. Near the end, Ford was selling twice as many Mustangs as the Camaro and Firebird combined.

So why bring back the Challenger and Camaro?

It makes sense only if they return as semi-premium sports coupes. Chevy sold more than 275,000 Camaros in 1978: They'll never see those numbers again. In 2001, Chevy sold about 36,000 Camaros. Ford sold about 161,000 Mustangs last year, a huge number by today's measure, and one a new Camaro and Challenger can't match. Too few buyers for cars like that to go around.

If, as expected, Dodge builds the Challenger on a modified Charger platform, and Chevy builds the Camaro on the newly revived Australian Zeta platform, initial investment in the two coupes will be shared with other models. No mass marketer can justify building just one model from a platform -- the "platform sharing" concept is regarded as the only logical business plan.

"Logical" is the key word there. If GM and DaimlerChrysler can convince the bean-counters they can sell 75,000 Camaros and Challengers a year, the cars will get the green light. If not -- well, more good news for the Mustang.

102 Posts
Re: Pony cars: Will they return to the range?

I can understand and more or less agree with this article,
but a target of 75k a piece, per year, for Chally and Camaro seems a bit optimistic to me.
I have the feeling that 35-50k is much more realistic...just a feeling though...
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