Roland’s View: GM has a future in Supercars despite the Camaro’s end

The Next Gen Camaro ZL1 NASCAR and production Camaro ZL1

Let’s be absolutely clear from the off here. The demise of the sixth-generation Camaro as a production car next year has been openly discussed and known about in the motor industry for several years. It’s neither a surprise, nor a revelation.

So all the shock horror headlines and bait click banners giving the impression that the end of the Supercars world is nigh are total rubbish and are not worthy of any journalist with an ounce of knowledge of the wider motor manufacturing world.

I can tell you emphatically that, when Supercars Australia started down the path of homologating the Camaro as a Gen3 contender, the management team at the time were totally aware that there would be a limited shelf life for the current body shape and that there would therefore have to be plans for the future post 2025. I know this because I was intimately involved in the negotiations for the use of the Camaro IP by Supercars.

Those negotiations started between GM (via Holden at the time) and Supercars very early in 2020 (remember those pre-Covid days?) just before GM announced the cessation of sales of new Holden products.

With the pressures of Covid creating huge uncertainty in the commercial world during Q2 of 2020 in particular, along with the fact that there was clearly no plan to sell the Camaro in Australia going forward, those negotiations stalled in August of that year.

I was then asked to take the lead in talking to GM in North America, as it was vital to have at least two makes of car involved in Gen3. As it happened, this coincided with the very positive internal decision at GM that they would start officially selling  the Chevrolet  Silverado and Corvette in Australia in 2021.

I personally reached out to the GM people I knew and asked them to give Supercars the permission needed to use the Camaro Intellectual Property for the Gen3 race car on the basis that this would really help Australian Motorsport, Supercars as a category and also Triple Eight Race Engineering. I believed that, given the hugely significant history with all these parties, there was a good chance that GM would come to the party.

I’m very pleased to say that GM responded to me almost immediately with their consent.

There was one huge proviso though. They simply would not countenance any possibility that the body of the Camaro race car would be bastardised in the way that the then current Mustang race car had been. I would be held personally accountable for ensuring that didn’t happen. For sure, given that a key cornerstone of the Gen3 plans was a move back to race cars that looked almost exactly like their road going counterparts, that was an easy promise to make.

But we knew, even at that point in September 2020, that the Camaro was likely to be phased out in its current form during 2024. Given that I have always spent a fair amount of time engaged with not only motorsports people but also the wider motor industry around the world, I had a reasonable expectation that this would be the case. There are few real secrets in an industry that uses so many contractors and suppliers. The resulting IP contract between GM and Supercars even reflected similar timing in its term.

Hence, at the time, both Supercars and I were very keen that Gen3 should hit the tracks in 2022 in order to maximise the shelf life of this sixth gen Camaro as a race car. Unfortunately, the planets didn’t align – including the change for the Mustang from S550 to S650 – so the introduction date was pushed back to 2023 as we all know.

The good news is that both the Gen3 Mustang and Camaro race cars did roll out looking like their road going cousins and therefore GM were extremely happy that the promises made in September 2020 were unbroken. That was reflected in their positioning statement of recent days when they made it clear that they plan to use both NASCAR and Supercars as marketing platforms even after the demise of this model.

On the basis that it makes sense that the current Gen3 cars be allowed to migrate into Super2 in three years’ time (2026, the same time frame as the previous 2013 Car of the Future models), the timing for the introduction of the new GM model body into the main series is perfect timing.

It’s a fact that both GM and Ford are investing heavily in electrification of their mainstream platforms. But both companies (and the wider industry, whether they admit it or not) are also very aware that there will remain a market for internal combustion engined vehicles at some level or another in many markets for at least a decade (I’d personally say much longer with renewables). They also realise that most motorsports fans have, to date, shown almost zero interest in watching electric cars race.

Therefore, I’ll speculate that the next Supercars (and NASCAR) GM body may well house an electric motor on the street and an ICE on the track. I suspect that it’ll look pretty spectacular in either form.

At the same time, it’ll be incumbent on Supercars Australia to ensure that the Gen3 chassis is developed as needed to allow for the fitment of this new body shape and that parity is maintained. Ford will, no doubt, continue with the S650 Mustang body for some years after the current Camaro finishes but sooner or later they’ll also need to accommodate a replacement body of some sort as nothing lasts forever.

Meanwhile, I wonder if there’s an opportunity developing to use the new, slated for 2025, Dodge Challenger body in Supercars…

The bottom line is that the end of the road for the current Camaro model spells more opportunity, not less, for the future of the Supercars category. Let’s hope the Board of Supercars Australia is smart enough to embrace this. Hmmm

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