It would upset Kitt, the talking Trans-Am of TV series Knight Rider fame, if he knew that General Motors has decided to retire two proud American muscle cars. The Chevrolet Camaro and its Pontiac counterpart, the Firebird, will end a long history with their 2002 models.
It would upset Kitt, the talking Pontiac Trans-Am of TV series “Knight Rider” fame, if he knew that General Motors has decided to retire two proud American muscle cars. The Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird will end a long history with their 2002 models.
General Motors said the demand for performance cars had declined in the United States and the muscle cars could not compete with the popular sport-utility vehicles. The assembly plant, in Ste Therese, Quebec, will be shut down next September, sidelining 1 400 employees.
GM said it had tried to find other uses for the factory, but none were realistic. The plant was opened in 1965 and also built the Chevrolet Celebrity and Monza, and the Pontiac Grand Prix. The move means GM will incur a one-time, pre-tax charge of R2,55 million in the third quarter.
"The Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird have truly become an integral part of the American culture over the years," said John Middlebrook, GM vice president and general manager of vehicle brand marketing.
Both cars will be replaced.
* The new Chevrolet SSR will be available next year and is a cross between a roadster and the now extinct El Camino;
* Pontiac will introduce the new Vibe GT, Bonneville SSEi and supercharged Grand Prix GTP.
Middlebrook said GM would be celebrating the cars with a 35th anniversary edition Camaro and a Collector Edition Firebird Trans-Am.
The cars were at their most popular in the 1970s and 1980s when they were immortalised on screen and television. Who could forget Burt Reynolds in the black Pontiac Trans Am with the gold "screaming chicken" hood decal in “Smokey and the Bandit”? Then there was “Kitt”, the talking, thinking, fighting black Trans Am that upstaged leading man David Hassolhoff in the TV series “Knight Rider”.
But sales have fallen in recent years and the cars are unable to compete with Ford’s Mustang. By August of this year, GM had sold 38 564 Camaros and Firebirds in the United States, while Ford sold 112 242 Mustangs.
Jim Wangers, a former advertising executive who helped launch the Firebird in 1966, told auto.com "the sales drop is so significant it becomes economically unwise to make those cars".
He said the Mustang was still doing well because it had been revamped. But Wangers pointed out it was not a true muscle car because last year more than 70 per cent of Mustangs were sold with a V6 engine rather than a V8. It was also very popular with women.
"They’ve built a cute coupé that’s trendy, but not particularly high-performance," Wangers said. "Ford has done a good job of transferring the Mustang’s image."
By comparison, the Camaro and Firebird are still mostly known for their high-power variants that appeal to men under 35, Wangers said.
But we may not be saying a permanent goodbye to these classics. The Ford Thunderbird was retired in the Seventies and, after a revamp, returned in 2001. So when will we see the Camaro and Firebird again? Well, for now, GM is keeping mum.