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Lutz Interview, Part 1: Camaro began as "pure concept;" mum on Z28

by Mark Elias

It's hard to interview General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz without at least mentioning the . The car represents a huge investment for the automaker, and more recently a point of some controversy. In an exclusive interview with MG, we asked Mr. Lutz about the Camaro's journey from concept to production, timing of the launch, future model plans.

Do you think it was a mistake to unveil the Camaro concept so far ahead of actual production?

Bob Lutz: "No, I don't think so at all. The Camaro started out not being a production program. We did this pure concept car. There's a couple of different kinds of concept cars."

"There's the kind I call 'fake,' which are so-called precursors -- when the real car has already been decided on and is already in the hopper and is about eight months away from production, and you do a conceptualized version, reducing the roof height a little bit, putting bigger wheels on, like we did with the Cadillac Provoq which now turns out to be the . They're a way of revealing most of the production intent of the car, but making it a little more exciting and getting some advance press on it."

"Then there are the other types of concept cars that start out as a pure concept, just as a great idea, sort of 'Wouldn't that be nice,' with no intention of producing them whatsoever. Examples of that kind of car is the original Dodge Viper, shown in 1989, the Pontiac Solstice, shown in 2002, and the Camaro. A lot of times what happens with those is that the car guys within the company do that car because the only thing that has a chance of convincing the corporation that it might be a good thing to do is the overwhelming success and response to the concept car."

"The skeptics in the company say 'oh no, jeez, we shouldn't be wasting our money on that, these Pony cars are short-lived.' Once the concept is shown, the company is bombarded with emails and letters, and even your own board members start asking what's to prevent us from doing this?" That's when the whole company gets energized and says, 'well, maybe we ought to do this.' I hate to say it, but sometimes it's the way to sell something internally that otherwise would be tough to sell."

"Once we showed the concept, and it got a good reception, we moved the implementation phase. And since we were starting from scratch, the concept had in no way been designed in a way to enable easy production. It was a special version of the Zeta rear-wheel drive architecture and nobody had a clue how to get wheels that big onto that architecture, and so on."

"So under three years from concept to production is pretty darn fast. I don't think that hurt the car, in fact I think there is a very agreeable surprise on everybody's part that the production car looks almost identical."

We've had several people familiar with the supercharged Camaro project that it has been cancelled. Whether it was to be called or something else has there been a change of plans in terms of high-performance Camaro offerings?

Lutz: "Well there certainly has been a de-emphasis because of the fuel economy rules, we have to bias the mix towards the vehicles with the V6 engines, and discourage the sale of large powerful V8s. That's what we've always said about the CAFE legislation- it puts us at war with market demand. Gasoline is four dollars a gallon and maybe someday going to five and six, the market will automatically gravitate to the ."

"But that's the point we've always been making, that with fuel economy mandates without a concomitant increase in gasoline prices, you are going to have cars that the public desperately wants and you're going to have to say to the public, 'I'm sorry, I can't give you one of those.'"

Check back Tuesday for part 2 of our exclusive interview with Bob Lutz.

Interview by Mark Elias.