The first 2016 Chevrolet Camaros will be arriving at dealerships across the country this month, part of a vanguard of new sports cars that is redefining American muscle. This is because the 2016 Camaro is the first of its name to offer a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine that GM rates at a healthy 275 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque. Such an engine would have been difficult to market ten or twenty years ago, but today technology and attitudes have changed enough that not offering a four-cylinder turbo would have been a huge mistake.
Which brings us to asking a question few others dare; how far is GM from making a hybrid Camaro that makes sense? As far as we see it, that day is a lot closer than most of you may think, and it has everything to do with the Camaro’s distant relative, the Cadillac ELR.
Launched in 2013 as a 2014 model, the Cadillac ELR was at best a half-hearted effort to dress up the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid as something other than…a Chevy Volt. Customers quickly saw through the ruse though, and GM was blasted for attaching a $76,000 MSRP to the tarted-up Volt despite making no improvements to the drivetrain in the areas of either performance or efficiency. Sales were embarrassingly low even with tens of thousands of dollars sliced off of the sticker price, and the absence of a 2015 Cadillac ELR fueled speculation that the luxury Volt experiment was already over.
Then came along Cadillac’s new CEO Johan de Nysschen, who not only cut the price down by $9,000 but also increased performance by almost a third, boosting maximum output to 233 horsepower and 374 lb-ft of torque. That brought the 0 to 60 MPH time down from nearly 8 seconds to 7.1 seconds in a front-drive coupe that weighs over 4,000 pounds. That’s faster than it has any right to be, and you can thank the instant torque of its dual electric motors for that.
Which brings us back to the idea of a Camaro hybrid.
As mentioned above, the 2016 Camaro uses a 2.0 liter turbo that makes 275 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque. Compare that to the 2016 Cadillac ELR’s specs, and you’ll see that the hybrid drivetrain is only operating at a 42 horsepower deficit, and actually has an 83 lb-ft advantage in the torque department. While it’s still no performance car, that is far from an unbridgeable performance gap, and you don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to picture a Camaro hybrid with equal, or even better performance, than a turbo-four.
There are other inherent advantages that a hybrid Camaro could offer beyond instantaneous electric torque and higher fuel economy. GM could offer a selectable all-wheel drive mode that leaves intact the physical connection between gas engine and the rear wheels, but adds electric motors to the front that can help with hard launches and slippery conditions.
Conversely, you could opt for the Tesla method and just mount two massive electric motors at the back end with a smallish battery pack and a gas generator under the hood, like a Chevy Volt on steroids. The 2016 Chevy Volt can go as far as 53 miles (the ELR can only manage 39) on electricity alone before the gas generator kicks in, and a plug-in hybrid Camaro would undoubtedly be in the same ballpark.
While gas prices are low right now, GM and other automakers still have government-mandated fuel economy requirements to meet, and they get bonus points for hybrid vehicles. There’s also the matter of the billion-dollars or so that GM has invested into its Voltec hybrid drivetrain, and it’s not like the automaker is about to write that off.
So we’ve established that a hybrid Camaro is perfectly within the realm of possibility, technology-wise, but that’s only half of the equation. Convincing consumers that a hybrid drivetrain is worthy of the Camaro name is a much steeper hill to climb though, even with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the mix. “Hybrid” is still associated with cars like the Toyota Prius, after all, and the Chevy Volt has been something of a political hot potato since its post-bankruptcy debut. GM also remains tight-lipped about such a scenario, preferring instead to focus on the launch of the 2016 Camaro and directing questions towards the current engine lineup.
Camaro fans have been welcoming of a potent-but-downsized four-banger as a base engine, consumers in general still have a ways to go before “hybrid” ceases conjuring images of smug-looking, NPR-listening Prius drivers.