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'Muscle car' shows weak planning, says NDP

The making of a new generation Camaro muscle car at General Motors in Oshawa – with Ontario government help

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The making of a new generation Camaro “muscle car” at General Motors in Oshawa – with Ontario government help – shows why Premier Dalton McGuinty must be careful with any bailout aid to the troubled Detroit Three, says NDP Leader Howard Hampton.

“Camaro sort of stands out as where this government went wrong … Camaro production is exactly the kind of muscle car people aren’t interested in buying,” Hampton said yesterday as debate continued to swirl over how much assistance the Ontario government might provide and under what conditions.

“It’s exactly where the market isn’t going. So I think it’s an example of what not to do. Governments should be saying, `Look, we want the products of the future. We want hybrids manufactured here. We want a guarantee.'”

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan confirmed that aid to the automakers, struggling with a sharp drop in sales because of the global economic slump and a gasoline price surge earlier this year, could cause a “spike” in the province’s projected $500 million deficit for this year.

His remarks echoed weekend comments from Premier Dalton McGuinty that the province’s red ink could “dramatically balloon” with auto aid.

Duncan wouldn’t comment on the Camaro directly but said he is aware of public concerns about bailouts to GM, Ford and Chrysler, whose U.S. chief executives he slammed for taking private jets to plead for cash from the U.S. government in Washington last week.

“These guys have to present a plan. And they’ve got to be smart about it. And taxpayers are quite properly going to demand accountability,” added Duncan, who said the government decision would be based on product lines and future plans.

“It’s not simply a matter of writing a blank cheque … We have to understand what the future of the industry is going to be.”

The Camaro, being built with part of $175 million in Ontario government loans to GM three years ago, is in “early build” stage at the Oshawa car assembly plant as GM ramps up production, aiming to have the cars in showrooms by the end of March, said GM spokesperson Patty Faith.

Prices will start at $26,995 for V6-models, which are expected to use nine litres of fuel per 100 kilometres on the highway, compared with 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres for the Honda Civic.

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said the Detroit Three have to prove they are “developing products that people are going to buy” but said government should not be getting involved to the point that it is dictating which models are made and which are not.

“The companies have to make their own business decision,” he told a news conference.

So far, none of the automakers has put a dollar value on their requests other than Chrysler, which is seeking $1 billion in Canada.

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