Chevy goes rear drive!: Camaro concept signals change of heart at GM
By Editors of Motor Trend
Photography by Speedshape Inc.
Motor Trend, April 2006
Rear-drive cars are coming back to GM. And it's Chevy, not Pontiac or Buick, that'll benefit, according to well-placed sources. GM announced last year it was axing plans to use the Australian designed and developed Zeta rear-drive platform for a range of new cars, most notably the next-generation Pontiac GTO. But it now appears rear drive is back on the agenda. The difference is GM will use key elements of the Zeta platform to develop specific cars for the U.S. market, rather than take the platform wholesale from its Australian subsidiary Holden. The other big change to the plan? The next-generation GTO is definitely dead.
You'll note the GTO didn't show up at this year's Detroit auto show--even though exclusive renderings we ran last year were based on an actual clay model we've seen at GM's design studio. Pontiac, along with Buick, will become more of a niche brand, according to insiders, especially as both are already sold together (with GMC trucks) in many dealerships.
The idea sounds viable: Sporty, youth-oriented Pontiacs like the Solstice and the G6 family sit neatly between the more luxury-oriented Buick and mainstream Chevy (which, despite all of GM's missteps, is still a brand with genuinely broad appeal that credibly stretches from the tiny Aveo to the ultra-high-performance Corvette Z06 to tough SUVs and trucks). GM has seen G6 sales improve to the point that it can sustain Pontiac for years to come. Buick will rely on the big new Lambda-based all-wheel-drive Enclave seven-passenger crossover as its savior. (We'll keep saying it until GM listens and spends the money--a rear-drive Velite sedan would make a great Chrysler 300-slayer.)
With Cadillac working on second-generation versions of its expensive Sigma-based rear-drive models, the new plan means Chevrolet will become the popular-priced rear-drive division. Expect the Camaro about the turn of the decade, along with a rear-drive, four-door Impala that makes the business case as the volume leader for the platform. Chevy won't become all rear drive, of course: Smaller cars, like the Malibu, Cobalt, and Aveo will remain front drive, sharing their architecture with other front-drive GM models around the world.
Much of the hardware already exists to make the rear-drive Chevys a reality. Entry-level cars could be powered by GM's new 3.6-liter high-feature V-6 with 235 or 255 horses; the engine has already been engineered for rear drive to power Holden's all-new VE Commodore, which goes on sale in Australia later this year. V-8s could include the 320-horse, 5.3-liter engine as used in the new Tahoe, or the new alloy-block, 6.0-liter L76 with variable valve timing and gas-saving Displacement on Demand. And for high-performance versions (Impala SS, Camaro SS) there's always the 400-horse LS2 or even the monster 505-horse LS7 from the Corvette Z06 (did someone say Camaro ZL-1?).
GM's new 6L80 six-speed automatic that's just appeared in the Cadillac STS-v and the Corvette is the logical mainstream transmission choice, and the Tremec T56, used in the Corvette, Cadillac CTS-v, GTO, and high-performance Holdens, is more than man enough for the performance versions though it may be updated by the time these rear-drive Chevys appear in 2009 or 2010.