May 25, 2007
CamaroZ28.Com was invited back to the GM Milford Proving Grounds to test drive the Camaro convertible concept (see previous article when we test drove the Camaro Concept coupe), and also to join a select few faithful Camaro enthusiasts to be a part of a very important focus group. Every so often, automobile manufacturers hold focus groups by selecting people who meet a certain demographic and criteria to take part in a very tightly choreographed question and answer session. They do this to make sure that they are headed in the right direction with their vehicles and since the upcoming Camaro is a key vehicle in the future Chevrolet lineup, this particular focus group was very crucial. All participants not only had to be die-hard Camaro fan but had to be the right kind of enthusiast who can be a voice for all Camaro enthusiasts.
ARRIVAL AT BLACK LAKE
Very few people outside of high level journalists and facility employees get to see one of the single largest paved surfaces on the planet. Black Lake is a nearly unimaginably large sheet of blacktop that GM uses to test every vehicle they produce. Looking across it make you nearly start to feel lost. It is something you never get entirely used to seeing. We were only going to be using a very small loop off the Lake because the main area of is was currently being used to test other vehicles and the Camaro Concept was not designed to be driven hard or fast. When the group exited the shuttle bus to head toward the meeting building, we were greeted by our old friend, the silver Camaro Concept. Beside it was also a mint condition 1992 1LE Z28, a very sharp 2nd gen Camaro, and a rare 1967 Camaro Pace Car convertible that ironically was once previously owned by one of the focus group participants. The Camaro convertible concept was already on the blacktop, waiting for us along with a small camera crew. It was time to drive.
DRIVING THE CAMARO CONVERTIBLE CONCEPT
It is difficult not to compare the Camaro convertible concept to the previously released silver Camaro Concept coupe because driving both genuinely feels nearly the same. Making the convertible feel just like the coupe was surely no accident on the part of the Chevrolet Concept Vehicles Division. Other than the fact that one has a great deal more headroom, they both have the same natural seating position, comfortable steering feel and smooth acceleration characteristics. However, having the top down (or not there at all in this case because it is a concept car) and feeling the sun on our face and the wind in our hair magnified the core Camaro driving experience. There is something about a Camaro convertible, and this one exemplifies that. It screams Camaro heritage and was even easier than driving the coupe to feel the very Camaro DNA that the next gen Camaro is targeted to be made from. Without the top over our heads, the exhaust note was more pronounced and the feeling of driving freedom was accentuated. Like the coupe, everything about the convertible felt just right for a Camaro (see our previous Camaro Concept coupe article). After each participant finished their short lap around the loop, they all carefully exited the car with the same look of sheer excitement and exhilaration on their faces. They weren’t excited simply because they got to drive a cool car and it wasn’t because they drove fast because the concepts are limited to around 40 miles per hour. They were excited because they knew deep inside that they just took a leisurely spin in the very foundation of the next generation Camaro. Without a moment escaping, each participant was immediately placed in front of a video camera and asked for their general thoughts on the drive they just took. Their responses clearly explained their expressions. Some were even speechless.
With the drive of a lifetime was still clear on everyone’s minds, the focus group meeting began. While it is understandable that we cannot get into great detail about what happened inside the focus group as each participant has to sign confidentiality agreements, a few very important things can be said.
First, the right people were selected to be part of the group. While Chevrolet would sit down with each and every Camaro enthusiast if they could, it is simply not possible so they had to find the right people who can speak for all Camaro enthusiasts. Each selected person clearly gave their thoughts on what the car should be and how it should be represented based on what they felt the general Camaro enthusiast would want. Their answers were not based on their own personal desires and needs and were not clouded by unrealistic expectations. Short of having all future Camaro buyers in that room, having the people in there that they did was undoubtedly the very next best thing.
Second, make no mistake that Chevrolet has a clear direction of what future buyers want in the next Camaro. The questions that they posed during the focus group were not generic or blind questions. They all had something in them that either made a confirmation of Chevrolets direction or just to narrow things down to move forward. If you have concerns that Chevrolet is not listening to the enthusiast about this car, put those concerns to rest. Chevrolet covered nearly every aspect of the next Camaro by asking questions and listening very carefully to the answers.
If the men and women working on the Camaro project continue in the direction they are going, and if the production version is truly an evolution of both the coupe and convertible concepts, it should fill the expectations of the enthusiasts who are hoping it will be the best Camaro ever. Both cars are a blast to drive at any speed and are without question loaded with what makes a Camaro what it is.
Being a part of a focus group such as the one that took place is a very special occasion. It is not often a die-hard enthusiast can take part in helping to shape what could become a phenomenal product. We know that there are thousands of members in our community that would like to offer up some great thoughts as well. Short of posting them on our message board, it would be hard to convey them to Chevrolet as well as even harder for Chevrolet to receive the information and compile it all. This is the primary reason for focus groups like the one that was just had. Rest assured that you as a Camaro enthusiast were properly represented.