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GM ponders how to replicate success of Camaro in redesign

Can GM maintain success when the current Camaro is replaced in a few years?
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News

General Motors is wrestling with development of the next-generation Chevrolet Camaro.

GM views the current car as a big success, and the automaker is cautiously taking steps to avoid — well, let's call it screwing up the redesigned Camaro. The car is due in the fall of 2015.

What's the issue? Well, there are several, says Al Oppenheiser, Camaro's chief engineer.

Weight reduction is one.

"We always get hammered for mass, and that's not going to be getting easier going forward" with the upcoming CAFE regulations, Oppenheiser said.

"Displacement, number of cylinders, all of these things you need to think about."

Then there's styling.

"This is a very successful car," he said during an interview this month at a Chevrolet press event. "In some ways it is actually going to be tougher" to create the redesigned car, which will be the Camaro's sixth generation.

"Do you make it look like a second-gen?" he said, refering to the 1970-1981 Camaro. Or "do you make it look like the first gen?" -- a reference to the 1967-1969 model.

Oppenheiser won't say which direction the team is leaning, but you can understand the concern.

Camaro held 42 percent of the rear-drive performance coupe market in 2011, composed of the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and a recent newcomer, the Hyundai Genesis coupe.

Chevrolet sold 88,249 Camaros last year, followed by Mustang, 70,438, and the Challenger, 39,534.

Hyundai sold 32,998 Genesis vehicles last year, but that includes the coupe and the sedan. Hyundai does not release separate numbers; the Automotive News Data Center estimates coupe sales at around 40 percent of all Genesis sales, which would be 13,199 coupes.

This year the Camaro has nearly 40 percent of the market. Mustang sales are up, giving it about 35 percent share.

On the horizon is the redesigned Mustang, expected for the 2015 model, the car's 50th anniversary. Though Oppenheiser didn't mention it, the new Mustang has the potential to become the No. 1 player, surpassing Camaro.

Oppenheiser stays in close communication with Tom Peters, design director for GM's performance cars. Peters' group is designing the next Camaro.

"We talk with our teams about what would you do to top [the current Camaro] or not top it, at least make sure you don't lose what you have today."

Said Oppenheiser: "We always have to stay fresh and ahead. [But] we do not want to lose the fact that we have nearly 40 percent of the market."

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