Q&A: Cheryl Pilcher, Chevrolet Camaro product manager
A muscle car fan that developed the fourth-generation F-body, Chevrolet product manager Cheryl Pilcher has been working for General Motors (and with Camaros) since 1986. Now, Chevy's baby 'Vette is about to be reborn with Pilcher's help. We asked assistant editor David Yochum , an F-body owner himself, to get the full skinny on Camaro design details, options, and future Camaro plans.
Cheryl, I've got to know. Have you driven the Camaro yourself and, if so, what was it like?
CP: "Yes. Oh my gosh, it is awe-inspiring! Thrilling. Because of my work on the past generation car, I was so sad to see that we didn't continue it right away after 2002. It was such a neat moment when I was driving a Camaro again. It just makes your heart and soul feel good."
What has been the focus groups' reaction to the Camaro?
CP: "We've had some events with core enthusiasts and had them out driving the cars at relatively low speeds. When we first showed them the car, it was so emotional. There were tears in their eyes - literally men and women."
Who then is the target Camaro buyer?
CP: "We are trying to target a buyer that maybe doesn't know Camaro from the past. We'd hope to attract them with the great looks of the car, a new high-technology direct-injection six-cylinder engine, good fuel economy, all the standard equipment, and higher technology features."
Obviously the Camaro is no longer a hatchback and it doesn't look like the last generation F-body. Explain the new design direction.
CP: "I think what Tom Peters, our exterior design director, and Jeff Perkins, the interior design director, have done is balance the right amount of a few heritage cues. But they did not make things so overt and retro that it might offend or might not be attractive to somebody unfamiliar with the Camaro's past."
What are the visual differences between the V-6 and V-8 models?
CP: "On the V-8 SS model there is a front fascia that looks similar to the concept car. There is a small lip above the upper grille, it has a larger lower grille opening than the V-6, and the SS has 20-inch wheels, whereas the six-cylinder has 18-inch and 19-inch wheels. The SS also has a subtle spoiler, standard Brembo brakes, and a blackout rear diffuser around the exhaust tips. All models will have dual exhaust - the V-6 has three-inch tips and the SS tips measure three and three-quarters of an inch. The SS interior will have 'SS' embroidery on the headrest, steering wheel, and instrument cluster. Both base models have halogen headlamps, and there are HID headlights available with the RS package."
Will there be a Z28 model?
CP: "There will be no Z28 model. Through the four generations of Camaro, there have been cases where Chevrolet chose to make the Z28 the top dog or the SS the top dog. As you're aware, Chevrolet is encouraging the SS strategy with cars such as the HHR SS and Cobalt SS. Consistent with this strategy, we have a Camaro SS."
What is the full model lineup and how are the models differentiated?
CP: "The base model is an LS. It comes with 18-inch heritage-style steel wheels, and relatively few options. It has the direct-injection V-6, standard roof rail airbags, side impact airbags, OnStar, XM radio, standard stabilitrack with traction control, and ABS brakes. Then we have the LT model, which is a six-cylinder with two levels - an entry-level LT and a loaded LT. With the loaded LT, you get 18-inch, five-spoke aluminum wheels, a power driver's seat and fog lamps. Then we've got a base level and loaded SS. The base V-8 entry is for buyers who want ultimate performance, but not necessarily things like leather seats (it's more bare bones). The loaded SS comes with leather, a Boston Acoustics audio system, electro-chromatic mirrors, steering wheel controls, Bluetooth capability, remote-start on the automatic transmission, and a USB port and wireless interface. If you have your iPod or a device plugged into the center console, you can use steering-wheel controls to scroll through song selections. The loaded V-6 and V-8 Camaro also have auxiliary gauges - the four gauges just forward of the shifter.
Larry Sully, GM accessories design manager, revealed his team is working on larger wheels and a body kit for the Camaro. Will these accessories be part of the RS package?
CP: "The RS package is available on all models except the LS. Like I said, it has HID lighting, a darker tailamp treatment, and on a V-6 RS you get the spoiler found on the SS. The wheels are expected to have a unique paint treatment - not black, but not a typical bright silver finish. And then the V-6 RS option also includes 20-inch wheels."
In spring 2007, you told the guys at CamaroHompage.com that you "don't believe a Camaro is the right place for a hybrid powertrain." Do you still feel this way? Could we see the first hybrid muscle car?
CP: "You know, it's interesting how quickly things change, right? All of a sudden gas is four dollars per gallon and creeping up. I think that our team, along with the rest of GM, is looking at all different fuel solutions for Camaro and everything else out there. Things do change and we will change with the times. The V-8 we have does use active fuel management."
Have engineers had a chance to test Camaros with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine?
CP: "We are definitely keeping our options open for the future. To keep on making Camaro, we will have to follow along with all the strict fuel economy standards required by law. Interestingly, the die-hard enthusiasts we talked to were very open to hybrid, four-cylinder, and alternative-powered Camaros. There are definitely some opportunities there. Performance is an important part too, but that doesn't necessarily mean V-8 performance. There's other ways to get great horsepower and good torque besides a small-block V-8."
Could the new Camaro be fitted with all-wheel-drive technology?
CP: "All-wheel-drive is not something that we've investigated and we are not planning on doing that. I've not heard our enthusiast group bring that up as something they are interested in. The enthusiast buyer wants the launch feel. For someone who is concerned about traction in the wintertime, we do have standard stabilitrack and our V-6 tires are all-season tires."
Will T-tops or a glass roof similar to what will be available on the Mustang be a Camaro option?
CP: "A sunroof will be available at the start of production and a convertible will be released within a year of the coupe."
Will the Camaro have any goodies that we haven't seen and wouldn't expect?
CP: "One of the really cool things on the interior is, when you start the car, the sequence of lighting and the instrument cluster gauges are all illuminated in a cool kind of a way. There is a light ring that goes around the actual tachometer and speedometer. Additionally, on cars with a leather interior, there is what we call a two-inch ambient lighting LED pipe that goes across the instrument panel and then also goes into the door trim on each side. It's very similar to what was in the concept car. It will have ice blue lighting, and we have a special inferno orange accent package with orange seat inserts and orange-red ambient light. Through GM accessories dealers, you will also be able to get different colored accessory pieces. Also, GM accessories will offer 21-inch wheels in two different looks. They should fit both the V-6 and the V-8 car. More Camaro accessories will be announced during the 2008 SEMA show."
How many Camaros is GM trying to sell? Is a reasonable goal about 100,000 units in North America and 5000 in Europe?
CP: "I think that's a good ballpark target. But look at the Mustang, the big dog right now. Its volume went down by 30 percent last year. Just like overall new car sales have gone down, so has regular sports car sales. But with the new Camaro and what we feel is pent-up demand for it, I can see we are going to have some pretty good first-year sales."
Has any pricing information been finalized?
CP: "Final pricing will be released toward the end of the year, 30-60 days before the start of production. We expect it to be very competitive with the Mustang. "
What is the Camaro's anticipated showroom date? Still February 2009?
CP: "We've been saying first quarter of next year, probably a March time frame. And it will be labeled a 2010 model."
Lastly, I read your first car was a 1986 Trans Am. Is there any scenario that would make it feasible, at this point or any point in the next three years, for GM to revive the Camaro's sister car, the Pontiac Firebird?
CP: "There is not work currently going on at Pontiac on a new Firebird. The G8 is kind of their car for that."