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Mythbusting Part 1: Fuel Economy standards will doom pony & performance cars.

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Mythbusting Part 1: Fuel Economy standards will doom pony & performance cars.

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Old 06-20-2007, 01:27 PM
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Mythbusting Part 1: Fuel Economy standards will doom pony & performance cars.

This subject came up on the "2009 Camaro discussion" section, and I wanted to make a post about it here (it's something I've long included on my computer notes to use if I ever get my butt going to assemble them in a book).


There's been alot of posts with conceren that new fuel economy standards or that rising fuel costs would doom Camaro and other pony cars. These posts tend to be based on the thought that as fuel costs go up people will turn away from high powered pony cars and as CAFE numbers go up, it will be next to impossible to sell these cars.

Fortunately, both are false when you look at history.

First, CAFE numbers.

The 1st year (1978) CAFE was 18 mpg, 19mpg in '79, and 20 in 1980. From that point, it jumped 2 mpg each year till 1984, when it reached 27, and the following year where it went up half a mile to 27.5. Camaro not only did well, but had one of it's biggest years ever. It sold 261,586 cars in 1984. The highpoint of CAFE. Mustang sold 224,000. In both instances, the highest numbers in years.

This was also in the midst of a new performance race.




Next, is fuel economy concerns.

The myth (and favorite posts of alarmists) is that higher fuel prices put Camaro and other pony cars at risk. However, history doesn't support this. In fact, history seems to prove the exact opposite is true.

The US and Europe faced a crippling fuel shortage in 1973-74 due to Middle East OPEC members attempting to influence US mid-east police by restricting the sale of oil to the US. The results were fuel prices jumping to the rough equivelent of $5 per gallon in today's money in many areas. It essentially wrecked the US economy, and was the root of inflation and most economic problems in the late 70s.

One would expect that would put the final nails into the sports coupe coffin that was dying at the time. Ford was killing off the Mustang in favor of the Mustang II, while AMC and Chrysler already were carrying out plans to kill off the Javelin, Challenger, and Barracuda. GM was making final arrangements on winding down Camaro in favor of the Monza, while Firebird was going to run it's course and fade away. But a funny thing happened..... sales started to spike!

Ford Mustang saw it's production spike when the oil crisis started up. So did Javelin, Challenger, and Barracuda. Although it could be attributed to people buying up the final models of these cars, the Chevrolet Camaro saw a sales jump in 1973 from 72,000 to over 96,000 cars. In 1974 when the oil crisis was in full effect, Camaro sales jumped even more to 151,000 cars.

Firebird also saw jumps. Base Firebird sales jumpped from a mere 14,000 in 1973 to 26,000 cars in gas rationed 1974. That's the same year that saw Pontiac's gas hungry, 455 cubic inch, performance poster child, Trans Am jump from 1973's 4800 cars sold to 10,255 cars.... roughly a 110% increase in sales.... in just 1 year! The following year, Trans Am topped that with a 170% increase.

Meanwhile, although Camaro seemed to slip slightly in 1975 from 1974, it increased every year up till 1979... which ironically, was yet another fuel crisis and the same year Camaro sold the most number of cars ever: 282,571 that year.



Based on history, the thing that seem more likely to adversely effect cars like the Camaro and Mustang is sustained economic prosperity and stable or low fuel prices more than high fuel prices, CAFE, or a sour economy. Consider that the Mustang very nearly was killed off in the late 1980s, right after a period of stable fuel prices, and a steadily expanding economy. Also in the late 80s, the Camaro took a direct hit in sales when it suddenly dropped from 137K in 1987 to 96K in 1988.

Fuel prices tend to shake people out of unnecessary vehicles that are more than what they really need. A person driving a Tahoe might take another look at a Jeep GC. A person driving a Caprice Classic might have considered a Malibu instead. Meanwhile, a single person who might be commuting in a picup truck might consider a car instead.

Another thing worth point out is the tendancy of people buying things that make them feel good in tough times.

Bad economic news tends to hit the auto industry 1st, and also tends to also hit people who don't actually need a new car. So those who do buy, tend to either need a new car or are enticed to buy a new car because of incentives or....... that "Got to have it" factor. Ponycars, Corvettes, and the latest stylish car or something out of the ordinary tends to do better during these times.




Finally, pending increases in CAFE numbers.

While new regulations mandating an average of 35 MPG by 2020 seem to be unavoidable, the doomsday predictions of the next Camaro, let alone all performance cars, is greatly exagerated. Here's why.

CAFE is a fleet based average, not an individual requirement for each vehicle. The way automakers have in the past dealt with this is making their high volume cars as fuel efficient as possible, while manipulating the availability of top optional engines on larger cars or trucks. CAFE average starts dipping down, that large V6 or V8 option just became alot more difficult to get in that Lumina or Caprice, or the price for that option just increased.

Here's where CAFE numbers work for enthusiasts.

Performance models typically account for 10% of a model's sales. As long as the volume model is far more fuel efficient, and that model sells in enough quanities, you can continue to safely have Hemi powered 300s. If you are selling 60-70,000 V6 Dodge Chargers each year, 4-5,000 Charger SRT8s aren't going to matter much to the lineup, let alone in light of the 100,000 4 bangers it's selling in addition.

Camaro and Mustang (and even the new Charger) don't, and likely won't take up the percentage of corperate wide sales they once did in the 70s and 80s. This means they will have less impact on any Corperate Average Fuel Economy standard. Although, unlike most other cars, 30-40% of these cars are likely to be performance models (the 4th gen had a not too good 70-75%), good economical V6s that reach over 30 mpg and city ratings over 20 will likely have very little to nil effect on CAFE.

Mustang or Camaro performance cars that averages 24-25mpg overall and sells at 50-70K per year isn't going to be the 1st target in a company that sells 4.4 million vehicles annually, and 2.7 million of that is light trucks.

In short. If there's a 500 horse Camaro on the drawing boards (let alone 400 horse Z28s), it's perfectly safe. Especially if it gets the fuel economy of LS2 GTOs or Corvette Z06s.

The bigger risk lies on having big engines in volume cars. You won't likely see V8s drift out of Impala SS (word was it would be available outside the SS) and perhaps a lower production 2010 Buick Lacrosse might have a high powered turbo V6 while the far higher production Malibu would have to make due with a higher mpg nornally aspirated V6.
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Old 06-20-2007, 01:50 PM
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Well said. This should be a sticky and required reading reading in this forum.
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Old 06-20-2007, 01:56 PM
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Excellent post! Myth busted.


Originally Posted by guionM View Post
The bigger risk lies on having big engines in volume cars. You won't likely see V8s drift out of Impala SS (word was it would be available outside the SS) and perhaps a lower production 2010 Buick Lacrosse might have a high powered turbo V6 while the far higher production Malibu would have to make due with a higher mpg nornally aspirated V6.
Is that a new rumor I see?
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Old 06-20-2007, 02:36 PM
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LaCrosse GN or even GNX

i know they probably can't use the Grand National name because of licensing and all that.. but a couple letters shouldnt be a problem
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Old 06-20-2007, 02:59 PM
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And everyone one better start getting used to forced induction in their performance cars. Of course the "pony" and "muscle" cars will continue to have V8 options, but other than that it will be forced induction. I can't say I am too unhappy about that really.
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Old 06-20-2007, 03:16 PM
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Ummm muscle cars had the lowest power in history during the 70's and mopar died along with AMC and some other brands.

So the above explanation to me has about as much spin as a michael moore film.
I think I rather take my chances leaving CAFE alone and buying whatever I damn well please.
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Old 06-20-2007, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Aaron91RS View Post
Ummm muscle cars had the lowest power in history during the 70's
Yes, BUT....compare the horsepower in Z28s and Trans Ams in the 70's against the other cars on the road and you would still consider them "muscle cars". No they weren't quick but they were still proportionately quicker than fuel-sipping compacts and run-of-the-mill sedans of the day.

Originally Posted by Aaron91RS
and mopar died along with AMC and some other brands.
This is a much better observation. I still think history is a good indicator, no spin necessary.
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Old 06-20-2007, 03:30 PM
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As far as prices go think about this:

1964 gas was 30, that is 3 dimes. You old timers might remember that 1964 was also the last year US dimes were made of Silver.

Fast forward to 2007, is Silver is between $13 and $14 an oz. That means those 3 silver 1964 dimes are worth about $1 each, gas is $3 but so are those same 3 dimes that bought a gallon in 1964. Gas prices are not going up, the dollars value is going down.
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Old 06-20-2007, 03:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Z28Wilson View Post
Yes, BUT....compare the horsepower in Z28s and Trans Ams in the 70's against the other cars on the road and you would still consider them "muscle cars". No they weren't quick but they were still proportionately quicker than fuel-sipping compacts and run-of-the-mill sedans of the day.
.
Yes but in 1976 your 71 hemi cuda, your 455 SD, and your 70 chevelle 454 were still pretty new and easily found. So that 76 wasn't quick at all compared to anybody who WANTED to be quicker and spent less and bought a stock used car.

Can you imagine in 2008 if the corvette, and mustang and imaginary camaro or GTO had a peak HP of 200. You'd get blown off the road by everyone keeping their 2007 vette and cobra.
So you might be fast compared to a 2008 honda cervix but you obviously bought the car to go fast and you wouldn't be **** compared to that 'old' 200x vette/cobra/GTO next to you.
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Old 06-20-2007, 03:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Z28x View Post
As far as prices go think about this:

1964 gas was 30, that is 3 dimes. You old timers might remember that 1964 was also the last year US dimes were made of Silver.

Fast forward to 2007, is Silver is between $13 and $14 an oz. That means those 3 silver 1964 dimes are worth about $1 each, gas is $3 but so are those same 3 dimes that bought a gallon in 1964. Gas prices are not going up, the dollars value is going down.
I think gas prices are going up AND the dollar's value is going down.
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Old 06-20-2007, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by guionM View Post
Finally, pending increases in CAFE numbers.

While new regulations mandating an average of 35 MPG by 2020 seem to be unavoidable...
Far from it. Crank up your email clients, and start firing off some sternly worded emails to the congressman who represents you, as well as BOTH senators from your state.

Electing retards with feel-good ideas instead of brains is what gets ridiculous laws like that passed into law, not some supreme force that mere mortals cannot control.

Writing to your congressmen in opposition to something is all the MORE important if said legislator is in favor of these obscene new CAFE regs. Congress-weasels already against it rarely need encouragment.
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Old 06-20-2007, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Aaron91RS View Post
Ummm muscle cars had the lowest power in history during the 70's...
There are two reasons for that. First the change in the way horsepower was measured and how it was applied to new car marketing. Secondly, new emission standards and an auto industry that both did not understand how to combine emissions and performance, nor did the technology exist as it does today.

So much for your spin-conspiracy.
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Old 06-20-2007, 04:19 PM
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I'm not that optimistic.

I'm assuming GM is going to have a ton of work ahead of them to hit these new CAFE standards and still offer competitive products, if they go into effect, across the whole board including the bread and butter cars, which will soak up alot of money, time and people. In that case, I don't think GM will have enough money left over to keep improving the Camaro.

Its going to be interesting what happens in the next couple of years.. If GM starts bringing in real profits consistently, continues to improve actual product and image, and the cars like the Volt succeed and really deliver, then perhaps hi-po cars will be relatively safe.

Last edited by Ken S; 06-20-2007 at 04:22 PM.
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Old 06-20-2007, 04:34 PM
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Another factor to include is insurance. Back in '72 the insurance companies increased the cost to insure a musclecar by 25%.

I believe this (and fuel mileage to an extent) is why the V-6 mustang became so popular (especially with the ladies.) You have a car that looks like a musclecar but without the higher sticker price and insurance rates and with higher fuel economy.

The camaro will do just fine. The V-6 will once again be a big seller and for those of us with some extra cash, that 400+ horse V-8 is gonna be frickin' awesome
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Old 06-20-2007, 04:42 PM
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I guess my question would be: How are you going to meet the future California CO2 regulation? Only way to reduce C02 is to reduce gasoline consumption. Somehow I don't see a 3,800 lb 400 hp car attaining composite 35 mpg average. You can't get around C02 limits by averaging in 45 mpg econoboxes to make up for a 25 mpg performance car. It's not a fleet thing; every car sold must meet the regulation.
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