There are some vehicles in the GM fold that have too much vested cache to risk ripping apart the script. The Chevrolet Camaro is a great example. It’s long represented the best of automotive Americana. Rear wheel drive, lots of power for the money, and a thunderstorm of a V8 engine. To tamper with the formula would be to tamper with the very ethos that draws customers to the car in the first place. And to those pointing at the sales scorecard as to why the Camaro might need to change – it’s not because it’s lacking electrification. It’s more likely that sales are down because the pricing is not agreeable for many buyers used to even the MSRP of the fifth-generation model. The so-called “healthy pricing of new cars” – the ever-growing MSRP based on everything from currency inflation to mandated content – is what is keeping consumers away. Not because the Camaro is missing a battery pack.
The cafe society tech bros aren’t going to (by and large) cross shop a Tesla with a Camaro, ever. But they might consider another new-money alternative: Polestar.
For those unfamiliar, Polestar is a new brand from Volvo that represents performance. Electric performance. The first model set to launch, the Polestar 1 sport coupe, will begin production in 2019 with 500 vehicles. All of which have been earmarked for the Chinese market, where it will be built. The excitement will be delivered via a Volvo twin-charged (turbocharged and supercharged) engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and a pair of rear-mounted electric motors for a combined output of 600 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. Polestar has claimed 93 miles of electric driving range, but battery power capacity hasn’t been announced yet. It’s based on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform that underpins everything from the Volvo V60 wagon to the venerable Volvo XC90 SUV.
The Polestar 1 has impressive numbers, to be sure. But it’s hard to see that formula in a car with the ethos of a Camaro. Does that make the Camaro a liability when it comes to GM’s ambitious/risky electric vehicle rollout strategy that’s been grabbing the headlines lately?
We don’t think so. But for the Camaro to be safe from electrification, it’s going to take some good marketing, and some executives who dare to picture a world with a gas-powered Camaro being developed alongside an electric performance coupe based on the Camaro – but not named as such. Yes, in all probability, an electric Camaro could likely attract some new customers, but it would come at the expense of deep-rooted branding. In this hypothetical scenario, Camaro customers would view the move as the nameplate “selling out”, and would feel alienated as Chevrolet moves the car into a different direction targeting what’s perceived to be a hipper crowd. In short, it would be robbing from Peter to pay tribute to Paul. Branding gymnastics, for no good reason.
GM has so far taken the politically safe route with plug-in vehicles and electric cars. The Bolt EV and Volt plug-in hybrid are not performance oriented, but they have enough torque from their electric motors to the point that they could be. Yet the branding and messaging continues to be geared toward the eco-friendly, the tech-oriented, the futurists, or a combination of the three. Everything is otherwise not set up to handle the immediate output these cars can provide – from the tires, to the brakes, to the suspension, to the half-shafts. I have no problem leaning into these vehicles – I’m a Volt owner twice-over, and it’s the car I choose to drive home for the money, after driving everything else. But it’s not because of the impotent branding platitudes.
Oppositely, and despite Chinese legislation very much arm-twisting automakers into electrification, Polestar’s messaging has been performance-driven. In fact, Polestar was Volvo’s performance sub-brand before the call to elevate the name to a standalone marque. This is a bold move that can only be gotten away with if a brand isn’t too deeply rooted or historically known for doing/being something. Polestar Performance has only been around since the 90’s, and compared to vehicles such as the Chevy Camaro, it has minimal name recognition and cachet by comparison.
So, what if instead electrifying cars like the Camaro, an electric vehicle brand was newly established? Or an electric performance sub-brand? Or simply a different vehicle name and design, but pooled in with engineering programs of a similar platform, or vehicle set? Volvo seems to be doing all the right things with Polestar, and it’s a great example for any automaker looking to extract untapped customers in the marketplace. A customer that aims to be 100 percent new school, and actually still enjoys driving things that don’t represent social currency on wheels. It would likely be an easier battle to win, as opposed to contorting an established nameplate in an effort to maybe appeal to strangers.
It’s easy to imagine a performance vehicle program comprised of a Cadillac or two, a Camaro, a Chevy performance sedan, and a performance electric vehicle derived off this architecture, under a newly created brand that is lock-step with the times. One that has no legacy, nor baggage. A clean slate into the future. It would be easy to see a showroom of premium and performance electric crossovers under this new brand, as well, which would be based on highly scalable vehicle sets or platforms.
Of course, General Motors has a tainted history of mismanaging brands, running them amuck, into irrelevance, and then into oblivion. Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn, Oldsmobile, Geo and Saab were largely all casualties of GM’s brand malpractices over the past 21 years. Due to history not being on the side of brand experiments, it’s likely something as cutting-edge as an electric performance brand won’t happen. But for the sake of Chevrolet’s historic performance car nameplates, it probably should.