Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, with the new Chevrolet SS street model after it and a racing version, back left, were unveiled at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Blame booming Chevrolet, which that has more new vehicles to introduce than it knows what to do with, that the all new 2014 Chevrolet SS rear-drive performance sedan was introduced to the public and the media in the infield of Daytona International Speedway hours before the Nascar version of the SS was to debut on track in the first race of the season, a preliminary to the Daytona 500.
Chevrolet, you will recall, had the new Corvette and Silverado truck line to promote at the Detroit auto show. At the Chicago auto show, it introduced the 2014 Cruze Turbo Diesel, the company’s first diesel-powered car in nearly 30 years. There is a full slate of introductions scheduled for the New York auto show, which starts March 29, including the first look in the United States at the next-generation Corvette convertible.
So Chevrolet packed up its top executives and shipped them to Daytona, where the SS – the company’s first rear-drive performance sedan since the 1996 departure of the Impala SS – was shown to enthusiastic Nascar fans surrounding a cordoned area in the Daytona fan zone infield.
The Nascar connection is important because 2013 marks the debut of all-new body styles for the Nascar Sprint Cup series. Over the last six years, Nascar had homogenized the looks of the Nascar Chevrolet Impala, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry to the point where the only difference was head- and taillight decals. The manufacturers insisted on cars that looked more like their road-going counterparts – after all, Nascar and the manufacturers have long embraced the “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” mentality, and that was viable when the on-track cars were, or at least resembled, converted street cars.
So Chevrolet took the opportunity to change its Nascar racer from the front-drive Impala to the rear-drive, V-8-powered SS, and for 2013, Nascar allowed the three manufacturers enough design latitude to race cars that actually resemble the models they are ostensibly based on. These Gen 6 cars – or the sixth generation since Nascar started in 1949 – should bring some brand identity back to the sport.
The SS is the first Chevrolet to wear the SS, or Super Sport, name as its lone moniker, having for decades been paired with higher-performance models like the Impala SS and Camaro SS. The 2014 SS is a one-size-fits-all model, loaded with such standard equipment as leather upholstery, a nine-speaker Bose sound system, heads-up data display, a color touch-screen navigation system and parking assist, which has sensors that allow for hands-free parallel parking.
The engine is a 415-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8, and the transmission is a six-speed automatic with TAPshift technology, meaning you can change gears using paddle switches on the steering wheel. Big Brembo disc brakes sit inside forged aluminum wheels. Tires are Bridgestone Potenzas – 245/40ZR-19 up front, 275/35ZR-19 in the rear. The weight, just under two tons, is lightened a bit by an aluminum hood and deck lid.
Inside, there is plenty of room for four 6-footers, with decent room for a fifth passenger. Instruments and controls are plain, but easy to read and access. Pedals are covered with drilled aluminum plates. The trunk is huge.
The price (as well as a presumably grim E.P.A. fuel-economy rating) has not been revealed, and won’t be until the fourth-quarter sales effort begins, but expect it to be about $45,000, a little more with a sunroof, the lone option.
Development of the SS has been largely under the radar, mostly because the car wasn’t developed in the United States. The SS is a product of Holden, G.M.’s Australian division. Whether American consumers care is mostly unknown: The list of Australian-built cars sold in the United States is short and not particularly distinguished. It includes the Mercury Capri roadster, which arrived in 1991 with the unenviable mission of taking on the red-hot Mazda Miata. Also, some Mitsubishi Diamantes came from Down Under.
In 2004, Pontiac revived the GTO, adapting the Holden Monaro as a $35,000 V-8-powered coupe that suffered slightly from jet lag: the position of the fuel tank, for instance, required that in order to pass American standards, Pontiac had to weld a partition in the trunk that cut cargo space in half. Improvements were made quickly, and the 2006 model was a very good car, but it came too late and production ended then.
Pontiac again turned to Holden in 2008, rebadging a Holden Commodore as a Pontiac G8 rear-drive sedan, with V-6 or V-8 power, and was planning to import a trucklike version similar to the Chevrolet El Camino, as well as a station wagon, when the Pontiac brand was shut down amid G.M.’s financial crisis. The 2009 G8s were the last.
The fact that General Motors in the United States has not forgotten its Australian affiliate can be traced directly to Mark Reuss, the G.M. president and a mechanical engineer. He served as Holden’s chairman and managing director in 2008 and 2009, and it was no coincidence that shortly after his return to the United States, it was revealed that Chevrolet would import a rear-drive dedicated police car from Australia called the Caprice PPV, for police patrol vehicle. While, like the SS, it’s a rear-drive sedan, Mr. Reuss stresses that the SS is not a civilian cop car, the way the last rear-drive Impala SS was – the SS and the considerably larger PPV are built on separate Holden platforms. But there’s no arguing that in terms of making a business case for importing cars from Holden, it made sense that the more cars you can load on the boat for America, the better.
All that said, Chevrolet is not looking at the SS as a major mass-market possibility, though the Holden factory can crank out as many as Chevrolet wants. Annual sales of 20,000 would be good, and 25,000 would be spectacular for what amounts to a niche, one-brand vehicle, since there are no plans for other American G.M. brands to share the SS.
“This is our flagship,” said Mr. Reuss, obviously proud. To be really proud, though, it needs to sell in the showrooms, and win on the track. The last part should be easy: Kevin Harvick won in his SS in the Sprint Unlimited Nascar race hours after the SS debut, and Danica Patrick qualified her SS on the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
The 2014 SS: Chevrolet Answers a Question, but Was Anybody Asking? - NYTimes.com