Ontario gets revved up by new Camaro

Says GM hinting it may build in Oshawa
Souce: The Globe and Mail - GRANT ROBERTSON

Ontario government officials have received "positive signals" from General Motors Corp. that the auto maker will choose Oshawa in the next several weeks to build a revamped version of the Camaro, possibly securing thousands of jobs.

GM became the last of the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers to wade back into the muscle car category yesterday when it confirmed plans to resurrect production of the once-popular Camaro, the last model of which rolled off the line four years ago.

Ford Motor Co. updated its Mustang with a beefy new design in 2004 and DaimlerChrysler AG is bringing back the Dodge Challenger after several decades on the shelf.

GM chief executive officer Rick Wagoner told a conference in Traverse City, Mich., that the revamped Camaro will be better on gas than its predecessors, with fuel-saving technology that uses fewer of the car's cylinders when they're not needed.

The company unveiled a concept version of the car last January, sparking speculation about where it would be assembled. At a time when North American auto makers have slashed their operations, the Camaro project would bring some security to wherever it gets built.

"We'll be announcing the production location for the Camaro very soon," Mr. Wagoner said in Michigan.

A few hours before the project was unveiled, GM Canada president Arturo Elias spoke with Ontario's Minister of Economic Development, Joseph Cordiano, about the prospects for building the Camaro in Oshawa. The government and the company have been in talks for months on the project.

"I indicated that we were looking forward to receiving the Camaro and he indicated that he felt that things were going in the right direction," Mr. Cordiano said in an interview.

"We are receiving positive signals . . . I'd be disappointed if we didn't get it."

Mr. Cordiano said that, to his knowledge, a final decision has not been made by GM. Several cities are said to be in the running, including Wilmington, Del., which has also lobbied for the project.

GM announced last fall that one of its Oshawa car plants would be closed in 2008 as the company looked to slash 30,000 jobs across North America. The cuts would affect 3,900 jobs in Canada, but the Camaro could lessen some of the blow. Mr. Elias could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Analysts have questioned the strategy of the Big Three bringing back muscle cars at a time of rising oil prices. The category had their glory years in the 70s when gasoline was cheap and powerful, fuel-guzzling engines were popular.

The Camaro made its debut in 1967 and had its best year for sales in 1978 when 260,201 were driven off GM lots. However, sales dropped to 28,404 by 2002, when production was stopped.

GM expects to sell roughly 100,000 of the new Camaros a year, which is conservative compared with the Mustang, which has sold 101,000 so far in 2006.

GM said the revamped Camaro will be "practical enough for everyday use." Few details, such as the sticker price, were revealed. The rear-wheel drive car will be offered in V-6 and V-8 models and is expected to get 100 kilometres out of 7.8 litres of gas on the highway when the fuel conservation technology is employed.

GM lost $10.6-billion (U.S.) last year, but has invested in Oshawa in partnership with government funding.

Ontario has contributed $235-million in the past year in a bid to bring new models to the site.

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