GM's Camaro move is only business, but it still stings
General Motors’ announcement this week that it will move production of the next generation of the Chevy Camaro to Michigan is an insult to the 2,000 workers who currently assemble it in Oshawa, but it’s not a surprise. It’s business — nothing personal.
Camaros haven’t been built in the United States for 20 years, when production ended of the third generation of the car. Since its birth in 1966 it was made at two American plants, in California and Ohio, but assembly of the fourth generation was moved to a GM plant near Montreal in 1992 and stayed there till it was discontinued a decade later.
Car companies move production for all kinds of reasons, and GM says that the move to assembly in Lansing, Mich., is for “improved production efficiencies” and lower capital costs. It’s the only rear-wheel drive car built in Oshawa, and it’s moving to share an assembly plant with the rear-wheel drive Cadillac CTS and ATS.
Review: 2012 Camaro SS Convertible
Nothing is known of plans for the sixth-generation Camaro, but it’s rumoured to be based on the new Alpha platform that’s used by the ATS, and the next generation of the CTS is expected to use a derivative of that platform as well. So perhaps there’s a valid business case after all.
The Canadian Auto Workers are more concerned that GM’s commitment in this year’s contract to maintain 16 per cent of its auto production in Canada expires in 2016, so the Camaro may not be replaced then by another model in Oshawa, with the potential loss of a thousand jobs. In Michigan, auto workers are paid an average $28 an hour compared to the $34 of Canadians, and it’s no longer mandatory for them to be in a union.
However, the Buick Regal continues to be built at Oshawa and the new Cadillac XTS will be made there next year, as well as the next-generation of the Impala that’s currently assembled at a separate plant nearby that’s scheduled to close. They could potentially cover those jobs and perhaps more — it’s just that there are no longer any guarantees.
But none of these vehicles have the emotional appeal of the Camaro. For the Oshawa workers, this isn’t business — this is personal. This move is like pulling the Corvette away from its assembly plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky — even though that assembly line in turn took the ’Vette away from St. Louis in 1981 after more than 20 years of production there.
On the popular website camaro5.com, which is dedicated to the fifth generation Camaro, comments were mixed as fans reacted to the news.
“I’m sad to see the move of Camaro out of Oshawa,” wrote AjaxInferno. “I live a couple of kilometres from the plant. It was awesome to drive by the lot where the cars are parked waiting to have the stripes applied (and) see some of the first production runs of the ZL1 drive by. When I drive by in my SS there’s a lot of pride!
A Michigan owner named meissen offered kind words to the builders of his Camaro when he wrote that “I look forward to the production moving to Lansing but I will say that I hope the outstanding pride, commitment, and passion for the Camaro that the Oshawa team has shown will be passed on to the Lansing team when the next-gen Camaro production begins.”
But a Rhode Island Camaro owner named V6Sonoma may have summed it up best: “Not sure how I feel about this,” he wrote. “I feel bad for Oshawa because I feel it’s a great source of pride for them. Not that they don’t take pride in the other cars they build but the Camaro is special. I know I would love to be the guy that could point to one and say ‘I put the fenders on that,’ or ‘I installed that car’s dash.’ They’ve done a great job over the years and have been very close to our community.
“I’m proud of my Canada Camaro. Even if it does have a strange way of steering me towards hockey rinks and changes the radio to play clips of the Red Green show on its own.”
A special car
I drove a Chevy Camaro convertible across Canada this summer, covering 28,000 kilometres in three months.
I was astonished by Canadians’ reaction to the yellow “Bumblebee” car. Outside of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, it was seen as an exotic muscle car. People commented on it constantly. Kids would take photos with their camera phones as if it was a Ferrari or Lamborghini.
We’re spoiled in the GTA, but out in the rest of Canada the Camaro is special. A V8 owner wanted to race me in Manitoba; the P.E.I. minister of transport asked how I could drive it without getting tickets; in Newfoundland, teenagers posed for pictures beside it.
Perhaps the best was in New Glasgow, N.S., when I was stopped at a traffic light with the top down on a sunny day and a motorcycle pulled up behind. “Hey — is that the new Camaro?” yelled the passenger to the rider. “Yeah, but it’s just the V6,” called back the rider. “You can tell by the exhaust pipes. Still a beautiful car, though.”