More Details on Chevy's New Tire-Scorching "Halo" Four-Door Emerge
To those of you who were sad to see General Motors cancel the Pontiac G8 GXP, take solace in this: Mark Reuss felt your pain. "Those were the worst days of my job. It was terrible," said GM's North American president last week during the reveal of the all-new Chevrolet SS NASCAR edition car, the race spec version of the Bow Tie brand's coming 2014 Chevrolet SS performance sedan.
While exact details are under wraps until its world reveal in February (likely at the Daytona 500), we'd be stunned if the street 2014 SS didn't have a version of GM's 6.2-liter V-8 under its hood -- possibly a derivative of the new C7 Corvette's upcoming powerplant -- with at least 400 horsepower on tap, mated to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. "It'll be a halo car for Chevrolet because we really don't have a high-performance four-door sedan. It fills that niche," Reuss said of the new sedan.
Reuss was instrumental in bringing the G8, a derivative of the popular Australian-market Holden Commodore sedan, across the Pacific to the American market. Before assuming his current position in Detroit, he was the head of GM's Holden division, and prior to that he was instrumental in the development of Cadillac's successful V-Series range. The man loves fast cars.
Once appointed head of North American operations in 2009, Reuss (who's also a certified Nurburgring test driver) understood the pressing need for a new performance sedan at GM, particularly for Chevy. From the moment he left Australia, he said, the SS was born. But it had to be something special. Given the company's bankruptcy woes at the time, there was also a real need for evaluation of GM and Chevrolet's racing efforts. He focused first on NASCAR.
"This racing thing was problematic for me, it really was," Reuss explained. "What are you going to do? Are you going to stay in it? Are you going to do nothing, or do something and really go at it and change it?"
Along with Jim Campbell, GM's vice president of Motorsport and Performance Vehicles, Reuss decided that whatever would be speeding at 200 mph around Daytona, Talladega, or any other Sprint Cup Series circuit had to be translated into the showroom. The connection was imperative.
"If we're going to create a Chevy SS, it's going to be V-8, rear-wheel drive, and will be a car that we can sell in the showrooms," Campbell said. "It became a collaborative effort with NASCAR."
While a team of engineers designed the race car using road-car production methods (i.e. CAD, scale model wind-tunnel testing, etc.), GM's performance squad -- the same folks behind the Camaro ZL1 -- began honing the Chevy SS's athletic abilities. The team's canvas was GM's global rear-wheel-drive Zeta platform, versions of which underpin the current Camaro and upcoming Holden Commodore VF.
Reuss wanted to build upon the G8 GXP's capabilities for the new SS. A 2009 model powered by a version of GM's 6.2-liter V-8 we tested hit 60 mph from a standstill in 4.5 seconds; a quarter-mile in 13 seconds flat at 109.6 mph; and achieved 0.90 g average on the skidpad. "The chassis of the VE Commodore is phenomenal. But I think the refinement and user interface things will be quite different. And I think that this will be a very special car for Chevrolet," he said.
As part of developing the SS, Reuss and Co. also decided to simplify the packaging formula that it had executed for the G8. So (at least for now) that means no SS V-6 or other lower level trim packages/variants. "This will be a pretty special SS and that'll be it. Pretty neat. A little different approach. I think it's [the SS' refinement] a mix of perceived and real quality on the human interfaces, things like shifter, steering wheel, seats, clusters, gauges, infotainment. The details," said Reuss. "But then there's also the detail of how you integrate the car from a noise, vibration, and harshness standpoint has to match that refinement that you provide the driver. I don't think there can be big gaps in that because that's where you get into trouble. I think the refinement you find in the car will match the refinement of the performance and the ride and handling and the capability of the car really well."
Reuss has also been keen on reviving the heritage of the SS moniker, which in the past denoted the highest levels of performance for Chevy. He didn't want to invent an all-new brand to accomplish it, but he understood that the dilution of SS in recent decades needed to change.
"They (other manufacturers) can't do an SS, number one. They can't do it. And that's always attractive to me. The SS has a lot of meaning. You know, Chevelles with cowl induction and all the stuff we used to have. Along through history it was sometimes done wrong when it was just a trim package," Reuss said. "We've done Impala, Monte Carlo, and all that stuff for a long time and it was all front-wheel drive. This is not a front-wheel-drive car. It was brought here to race... and to bring a nice high-performance sedan to Chevrolet."
In addition to being a focused car, it will be relatively exclusive, with an initial annual production run in the 5000 to 10,000 range, but Reuss says GM will have the ability to ramp up production if demand warrants. "We can make as many as people want. And that's really a great way to run kind of a business with this car," Reuss said.
Campbell believes the SS is in a league of its own. "For the street SS, it's interesting because at a Chevrolet level there's not a lot of competition," Campbell said. "You would have to move up to a luxury category. You can't really look at other vehicles that are larger, car-based, because most of them are front-wheel drive."
When asked where the SS will sit in the GM performance pantheon, Reuss said they're not thinking of it in those terms. "We're not going to rank order performance by model or any of that stuff," he said. "The Corvette will naturally always be the fastest, highest-performing thing we do, but everything else is every man for himself. The minute you start laddering performance, it becomes a very dangerous game."
As for the potential buyer, Reuss said proper market research hasn't be completed. But as it stands, he's not too worried about attracting buyers. In fact, there may be an SS or a used G8 in his driveway pretty soon.
"This is going to really be a really good car. And we'll get a lot of people to buy it. It'll be aspirational for young people like my son," Reuss said. "My son wants a G8; he's 16. So, you know, they'll be a lot of aspirational folks that maybe don't quite have to money to do it now."
Read more: GM's Reuss Talks 2014 Chevrolet SS Sedan - Motor Trend