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2016 Camaro bulks up in muscle car sales race

Henry Payne and Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis likes to say: "If you missed the first muscle car era, don't miss the second." Last year, Kuniskis's team unveiled the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, the most powerful large coupe ever made with 707 horsepower. Months later, Ford Motor Co. unveiled a sleek new version of its Mustang.

No pictures of the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro have been released, but GM released this teaser view of the vehicle’s broad, dramatic rear fenders.

And Saturday, the redesigned 2016 version of the reigning muscle-car sales king — the Chevy Camaro — will be unveiled in a bid to keep the sales crown.

General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet brand will host hundreds of Camaro fans and owners on Belle Isle to reveal its sixth-generation sports coupe, which will be built in Lansing. GM's largest brand expects 1,000 guests and about 350 Camaros from Canada and more than 30 states, said Todd Christensen, Camaro marketing manager. Fans not on Belle Isle can get details of the reveal at

On Friday, some images of the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro were leaked during teasers into a segment about the new Camaro on CNBC. The images were quickly screen-grabbed by Jalopnik, a leading auto enthusiast blog and other sites and published online, and others.

Chevy debuted the fifth-gen Camaro in August 2009 as a 2010 model, reviving the muscle car for Chevy after an eight-year absence.

"The fifth-gen has been wildly successful," Christensen said. "It's been the top-selling car in the performance car segment ever since we launched, so for five years straight."

GM sold 86,297 Camaros last year, but with new Challengers and Mustangs flooding the market, Camaro sales have stalled. Through April, Camaro U.S. sales have totaled 24,229 — down 15.3 percent — while Mustang sales have soared 60 percent to 42,955. Challenger sales have accelerated 40 percent to 22,728.

The next-generation Camaro, to be built at GM's Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant beginning later this year, sits on a new platform and sheds more than 200 pounds from the previous generation. GM has said the new Camaro has just two carryover parts. It claims better handling and improved acceleration and fuel economy.

"It has all the emotion and performance and all the things you love about today's car," Christensen said. "But I would say it's been refined and sent to the gym a little bit. So more lean, more nimble, more agile, more athletic."

He says the latest incarnation likely won't stray much from its well-known styling cues. "It'll be unmistakably a Camaro," Christensen said.

To meet government mandates for improved gasoline mileage, the car will surely emphasize fuel economy like its Challenger and Mustang rivals. The Camaro is likely to add a fuel efficient four-cylinder engine offering like the Mustang, according to Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book analyst, and Todd Lassa, Detroit Bureau Chief for Automobile Magazine.

To keep its sales streak, Brauer said the 2016 Camaro will need to improve its exterior and interior: "I think they need to ensure that it's really well put together in terms of refinement and advancements. I think the magic of today's muscle cars is that they have all the look and style of the original ones, but none of the bad things they had in terms of lack of refinement or lack of performance."

The first-generation Camaro debuted the SS and Z-28 performance packages that exist today. Introduced in 1967 with an inline 6 with a minimum of 160 horsepower — or V-8 engines that offered as much as 375 horsepower — the Camaro's COPO engine grew to 427 cubic inches producing an unheard of 425-430 horsepower. The Camaro would become a fixture as the official pace car of the Indianapolis 500.

When the car first came out, GM said the word "Camaro" was derived from the French word meaning "companion." Ford produced a Spanish dictionary defining the word as "a small, shrimp-like creature."

The muscle wars were on. In 1969, Dodge added its muscular Challenger in a segment defined by long hoods, menacing cowls, and big, snorting V-8 engines.

"Camaro tapped into baby Boomers like me," says Gary Witzenburg, author of "Camaro: American Icon." "An affordable sports car was appealing to me — and it attracted girls."

But the first muscle car era ran headlong into the oil crisis and federal emissions regulations.

General Motors’ Chevrolet brand will host hundreds of Camaro fans and owners on Belle Isle Saturday to reveal its sixth-generation sports coupe. Above, a 1969 Camaro with the Super Sport/Rally Sport option plies the road.

By 1977, the base Camaro was down to a paltry 110 horsepower. The muscle segment's slide continued for the next two decades. Chevy retired the Camaro in the early 2000s.

When the fifth-generation Camaro for the 2010 model year debuted, its design was a throwback to the original, capturing the brand's twin touchstones of power and performance.

The entry-level, 3.6-liter V-6 for 2010 put out 300-horsepower-plus, while the resurrected SS boasted a ferocious, 6.2-liter V-8 engine borrowed from the Corvette. Grunt was complemented by good handling.

Sales zoomed past Mustang. It was a home run for Chevy.

"Camaro's resurrection wasn't driven so much by young people as in the 1960s," Lassa said. "This time it was the original buyers wanting to recapture their youth after driving the kids to school in minivans."

According to Witzenburg, "Everyone these days wants crossovers, and they are replacing coupes and sedans. But I think there will always be a small niche for people who want a flashy car in their driveway."

'14 muscle car sales

Chevrolet Camaro: 86,297, up 7.1%

Dodge Challenger: 51,611, flat

Ford Mustang: 82,635, up 7.1%

Source: Automakers