Can Chevy Camaro get back in the race vs. Mustang, Challenger?

The Camaro’s Turbo 1LE package, shown, is meant to offer a bookend to its range-topping Camaro ZL1 1LE and compete head to head with the Ford Mustang’s EcoBoost four-banger.

RENTON, Wash. — The Chevrolet Camaro was the king of U.S. sports cars for five years in a row, from 2010 through 2014. Since then, the Camaro has been choking on the Ford Mustang’s dust, especially after Chevy redesigned the Camaro and focused on higher-priced, performance-oriented models.

Chevy officials originally said they were fine with ceding some volume in the interest of profitability, but this year the Camaro has dropped to an embarrassing third place — in a three-vehicle segment — behind the Mustang and the Dodge Challenger, which sits on a more than decade-old platform.

Now, Chevy is trying to fight back by targeting the lower end of the pricing spectrum, where Ford and Dodge have been thriving.

Al Oppenheiser, the Camaro’s chief engineer: “We plan to go head to head – and win.”

“Frankly, they’ve been eating our lunch,” Al Oppenheiser, chief engineer of the Camaro, said of the Mustang in particular. “The low [transaction prices] of a four-cylinder … that’s where the bulk of the sales are and that’s where our pricing strategy needed improvement. We plan to go head to head — and win.”

Chevy this year cut the price on its entry-level Camaro 1LS by about $1,000 to $25,995, including shipping, and slashed prices on the 1LT and 2LT models as part of the 2019 vehicle’s freshening. Additionally, Chevy is introducing a Turbo 1LE package featuring the brand’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as a way of bringing its track technology to the base engine.

The new package is meant to offer a bookend to its range-topping Camaro ZL1 1LE as well and compete head to head against the Mustang’s EcoBoost four-banger.

Camaro sales have fallen 28 percent so far this year, about three times worse than the decline for sports cars overall. Despite being the most recently redesigned of the three sports coupes, the Camaro has been clobbered by the Mustang in each of the past three years.



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“It just doesn’t have the personality that the other two cars offer,” Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said of the Camaro in an interview.

Pony-car race

After topping the Ford Mustang for 5 consecutive years, the Chevrolet Camaro has come up short since 2015.
  Camaro Mustang
2009 61,648 66,623
2010 81,299 73,716
2011 88,249 70,438
2012 84,391 82,995
2013 80,567 77,186
2014 86,297 82,635
2015 77,502 122,349
2016 72,705 105,932
2017 67,940 81,866
2018* 29,551 48,362
*Through July
Source: Automotive News Data Center

Brand executives hope the Turbo 1LE package, which they showed at a media event outside Seattle last month, can help change that perception.

The 2.0-liter engine produces 275 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque and can go from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Its EPA fuel economy ratings are 20 mpg city/30 highway.

The Turbo 1LE package starts at $30,995, including shipping, and has a chassis package derived from the V-6 1LE for track-capable performance. It comes with 20-inch wheels and a six-speed manual transmission. Recaro performance seats are a $1,595 option.

“What’s happening in the sport car segment, there’s a lot more volume in the low-to-mid part of the market,” Steve Majoros, Chevy’s marketing director for cars and crossovers, said. “We do a phenomenal job with our loaded SS’s, and it’s great business for us, but the reality is there’s an awful lot of people who just want a great looking sports car somewhere in that $30,000 range, and that’s what we’re going to deliver.”

Chevrolet also plans to target buyers who might otherwise opt for a Ford Focus RS, Hyundai Veloster N, Honda Civic Type R or Kia Stinger.

The freshening mirrors Chevy’s sedan strategy of offering more options in the low-to-mid price range. Its 2019 Malibu, for example, comes with a new RS variant that slots between the cheaper LS and higher-end LT trims.

Brauer said adding the 1LE track package to Camaro’s four-cylinder was necessary to compete with the Mustang, but he noted the 2019 updates still fail to address some styling and visibility problems that have turned off some potential buyers.

“It doesn’t hurt to have a lot of value for the money,” Brauer said. “I just wonder if that alone is the real stumbling block.”

Oppenheiser said he thinks that, by targeting new customers in a lower price range, Camaro can overtake the Challenger and Mustang, although he offered no timeline.

“Once there’s a groundswell that ‘Hey, it’s affordable performance,’ I think it will gain us back the momentum we need to take over,” Oppenheiser said. “That’s why I come to work every day — to take that crown.”