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Just Don't Call it a Muscle Car

General Motors, eager to flog its reputation as a green company, has a slight problem. One of its most high-profile new cars will be the Chevrolet Camaro coming out next year. With its muscle car heritage and optional V-8 engine, the Camaro is hardly the statement of green, high-tech modernism that every carmaker is trying to broadcast these days. Ditto for the Dodge Challenger, which Chrysler showed at the New York Auto Show today. Arguably, both cars say that these companies are stuck in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

GM thinks it has a solution. Just don’t call the Camaro a muscle car. Mark LaNeve, GM-North America’s vice president of sales and marketing, says he wants to advertise the car’s sporty ride and handling, bold styling and (get this) its fuel economy when Chevrolet launches the car next year. When equipped with a V-6 engine, the car should get about 28 miles per gallon on the highway, La Neve says. “We won’t position it as a muscle car,” he says. “The mainstream positioning will be fuel economy, design and a V-6.”

That will require a real sales job. But Chevy has no choice. GM’s biggest-selling division has to transcend its roots as a maker of performance cars like the Corvette, big trucks and NASCAR. Otherwise today’s car buyers, now looking more and more for gas sippers, will drive right on by. Today, Chevy buyers say fuel economy is the third qualification on their list for buying a car. A couple years ago it was 8th or 9th, says Brent Dewar, GM-North America Vice President of sales, service and parts. GM is trying to gain some green cred with marketing chops like its “Gas-Friendly, Gas-Free” campaign, which touts GM’s foray into technologies like ethanol-powered engines, hybrids and its research into hydrogen fuel cells. “It’s a marketing challenge when you make a paradigm change,” Dewar says. The same could be said for marketing a fuel-efficient Camaro.

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