Last year was brutal for the auto industry, with sales down by 21 percent versus 2008. Sports cars were hit even harder, as many customers shied away from spending big dollars on what typically amounts to a second or third vehicle. The Chevrolet Corvette was no different, as America's sports car saw sales plummet 48 percent versus 2008 – the worst year for Vette sales in nearly 50 years. But was the drop in Corvette sales because of the economy, or its new pony car stablemate, the Camaro?

Wards Automotive
claims that web data shows the number one competitor to the Vette isn't something like the Nissan GT-R or Porsche 911 – it's the reborn Camaro. But who in their right mind would cross-shop a track-ready thoroughbred with near supercar performance and a relative bargain price tag against the heavier, less agile, less exclusive Camaro? Apparently a lot of people. The Camaro had a rather remarkable 2009, with 61,648 units sold in its first year back. The new Bowtie coupe even managed to beat out the Mustang the last seven months of the year and came within 5,000 sales of besting Ford's iconic steed despite the fact that the Camaro didn't go on sale until spring.

With the economy still on the rocks, we're thinking there may have been some customers who noticed that the Camaro has the same V8 engine as a base model Corvette, seating for four and a price of entry that starts some $18,000 lower than Chevy's halo car. The Camaro is also a fresh face for the 2010 model year after an eight-year hiatus from the market, while the C6 Vette is now on its sixth year of production, and despite frankly incredible variants like the Grand Sport, ZR1 and just-announced Z06 Carbon, Chevy's top dog is getting a little long-in-the-tooth.

Either way, it's hard to argue with the fact that having two high performance, rear-wheel-drive vehicles in the same showroom is going to mean that there will be some cross-shopping. We're not complaining, though, because choice is a good thing, especially when the options are as nice as these two.

[Source: Wards Automotive | Image: Joe Raedle/Getty]