Good cars don't always survive inauspicious beginnings, such as the Pontiac G8. Based on the Australian-built Holden Commodore, the G8 disappeared along with Pontiac in the wake of General Motors' 2009 reorganization. Five years later and its acclaimed spiritual successor, the Chevrolet SS, could potentially face the same fate.
Late last year, GM publicly announced the closure of its Australian production facilities by 2017, bringing with it a significant change to the vehicles offered by the Holden marque. The brand will continue to operate in Australia, however Holden's rear-drive lineup of Commodore saloons and utes will effectively cease to exist. Given that Holden manufactures the Chevrolet SS and Commodore on General Motors' Zeta platform in Elizabeth, South Australia, the news paints an unsettling picture for the perseverance of Chevy's flagship performance sedan.
SS volume limited
So far, sales have been positive in lieu of being artificially low, reflected by General Motors' importation targets of between 3,000 and 5,000 units annually. As of April 2014, Chevrolet has sold 1,148 SS models on the year, which is consistent with the automaker's target.
"Overall we are very pleased," commented Todd Christensen, Chevrolet Performance Car Marketing Manager. "Feedback from consumers so far indicates they love the car. Media reaction overall has been really favorable, and sales are right on track with our expectation."
Compared to its stablemates, the SS is Chevrolet's lowest selling 2014 model, and comes just in front of the similarly-niche Cadillac ELR in terms of total sales. But what the sales figures don't account for is the vehicle's brand ambitions.
Bringing back the rear-drive sedan
When Chevy introduced the SS in late 2013, it marked the first rear-drive Chevrolet V8 sedan in 17 years, since the fourth-generation Caprice and seventh-generation Impala were scrubbed. Pending successful first year sales, it's a noteworthy shift - or at least a test bed - for consumer interest in Chevrolet performance sedans, an even more feasible claim when you look at similar shifts in the rest of The General's lineup.
As recently announced, the sixth-generation Camaro will depart its Zeta platform underpinnings for GM's newer Alpha architecture when it debuts in 2016. This architecture was originally developed for the current Cadillac ATS and CTS.
New Alpha base?
Depending on how the SS continues to sell, it is possible that the performance sedan makes the production leap to North America in 2017 either as the existing Zeta or making the transition to the Alpha platform like its Camaro sibling. This similarly priced second-gen would likely be a notch bigger the ATS but a touch below the CTS. Based on business principles alone, it would be highly unlikely that the current SS remains on the Zeta platform past 2017 with no further domestic uses of the platform.
What the nameplate does do is recall the brand's prior success with performance sedans, such as the iconic Impala SS and Chevelle SS, and continued success in racing with the 2014 NASCAR Chevrolet SS. And given its limited availability and potentially limited run, it makes it a collectible vehicle in the future.
An enthusiast play
"If you look at past history, the SS seems to have the right formula - great performance, strong market reaction, and a loyal enthusiast following, which is probably most important," noted Christensen. "Judging by the online enthusiast forums, there is lots of passion and excitement about the SS. The low production volume will certainly help as well."
The future of the Chevy SS remains a hotbed of debate. It could very well be a stopgap until further GM performance sedans arrive on the Alpha architecture or a dead end meant to fill an empty segment. Given the competitive landscape, with no end in sight for the similarly sized and rear-drive Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300, Chevy might be well-served to keep the SS going.
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