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Detroit Flexes Its Muscle

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The Big Three automakers flexed some muscle last month during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. Walking the show floor with a fellow Babcox editor and a graphic designer during one of the show’s media days, I was taken in by the selection of V8 performance cars — both production and concept — that were reminiscent of the 1960-’70s era of muscle cars. Ford Motor Co. showed off its muscle, along with racing legend Carroll Shelby, with a couple of 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustangs, the most powerful Mustang ever built. Available in a coupe or convertible, this souped-up, sexy Mustang powered by a 475 hp supercharged 5.4L V8 engine with a 6-speed manual transmission, is expected to hit showrooms this summer — just in time to wheel it in to a cruise-in or to visit your local drive-in theater (if your area is lucky enough to still have one).

General Motors had its muscle car hit, too — a concept design Camaro powered by a rear-wheel driven 400 hp LS2 V8 engine. GM officials said the concept Camaro draws inspiration from the early days of the car that debuted with the 1967 model. GM discontinued the Camaro in 2002, but many motor enthusiasts expected the vehicle to be resurrected. Following the concept’s warm reception during the show, I expect the concept Camaro will get the green light as a production vehicle in a few years.

And finally, not to be outdone, DaimlerChrysler took the wraps off its much anticipated Dodge Challenger concept, a sleek, revamped, early 1970s-looking model that is equipped with a 425 hp 6.1L V8 Hemi. (Would you expect anything less?)

All of this is good news for the Big Three, which had suffered some negative attention during the past year regarding vehicle sales, layoffs and market shares.

And this excitement generated by these muscle cars could continue, depending on what the automakers do next. According to an Autobytel Snap Poll, consumers “dig” these new retro vehicles. Autobytel, an Internet automotive marketing services company that helps retailers sell cars and manufacturers build brands through marketing, advertising and data, asked its current online car shoppers how they feel about this styling/branding trend, which retro models they find the most appealing, and if they think there’s a future for “retro” styling. When asked whether they think the automakers have “gone too far” with the retro theme, 61% replied “no, I like the trend,” with only 21% agreeing they’ve gone too far, and only 19% saying there are currently enough retro offerings on the market.

Surprisingly, Autobytel reported that while the Mustang has enjoyed strong sales in recent years, 46% of the shoppers surveyed predicted that a new Camaro would be more popular than the new Mustang — despite the fact that the Camaro hasn’t even been slated for production. (For more information on the survey, visit www.autobytel.com.)

So it would seem that consumers are ready to go back to the glory days of American muscle cars. The question is, are the automakers?

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Which muscle car introduced at the North American International Auto Show would be your first choice to own? E-mail us at [email protected].

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