Detroit's Muscle Car War Is About to Get More Heated

GM's 2016 Chevy Camaro will be unveiled on May 16, 2015. Source: General Motors.

Arguably, the most hyped rivalry in the automotive industry has long been General Motors' Chevrolet Camaro in the red corner, and Ford Motor Company's Mustang in the blue. With the Mustang redesigned last year, and the 2016 Camaro coming soon, major bragging rights are up for grabs. Which one will come out on top?

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By the numbers While the Mustang and Camaro both certainly have die-hard fans and cult-like followings, it's clear from a brief glance at sales that times have changed for the two cars.Take a look at their sales over the decades:

Chart by author. Data source: Wikipedia,, Automotive News DataCenter.

In each of the last five years, Chevrolet's Camaro has outsold Ford's iconic pony car in the U.S. market.This year, that's going to change, as Ford redesigned its 2015 Mustang, and sales are on fire through the first quarter of the year -- up 52% compared to last year's Q1, to just under 30,000 units. That's far ahead of the Camaro's 11% decline, to just over 17,000 units, during the same time frame.

The Mustang essentially is a lock to top the Camaro in sales this year, but the question is: What happens in 2016? A few pictures have been leaked ahead of the 2016 Camaro being unveiled tomorrow, May 16, in Detroit, but here are some other things to consider.

New Camaro from the ground up? While the industry will classify the Camaro as a redesign, General Motors is emphasizing that the 2016 vehicle is practically an all-new ride. In a press release,Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president of global product development, elaborated:

More than 20% of the 6.2L LT1 V-8 engine has been tailored to fit the packaging for the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro. Source: General Motors.

One of the biggest changes for the 2016 Camaro is its move from a cut-down version of the Zeta platform -- which is used for larger sedans -- to the Alpha platform, which is used for GM's luxury Cadillac ATS. Put simply, that platform change will reduce the Camaro's size and weight, and will thus improve its handling and, likely, its fuel economy.

A huge detail for investors to watch for, and a detail muscle car loyalists can ignore, is whether or not GM will add a turbocharged four-cylinder option to the Camaro's powertrain. This is the decision that will largely impact whether it's the Mustang or the Camaro winning the sales crown over the next five years.

While muscle car loyalists like myself will always opt for the V8, that may not be the case for the mainstream consumer. According to TorqueNews, which spoke with a Ford dealership representative, the EcoBoost-powered Mustang is moving off dealer lots faster than the V8, while V6 sales are practically dead on arrival.

So far, Ford has been well rewarded by adding a turbocharged EcoBoost to the Mustang's lineup, which has enabled it to resemble a sports car to mainstream consumers yet still offer the powerful V8 to the historic muscle car consumer -- in theory, everybody wins. If GM doesn't announce that it has made a similar choice on May 16, expect the Mustang to dominate sales in the near future.

And it's a bigger deal than just increasing sales by tens of thousands of units per year. These iconic vehicles attract consumers to dealerships and represent Ford and General Motors in video games, movies, on children's toys, or just about anywhere. Put simply, more sales and increased popularity of one of these vehicles over the next couple of years means a lot of cheap, or even free, advertising and marketing for the automakers -- in addition to huge bragging rights.

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Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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