The speculation can finally come to a close: Yes, Chevrolet will sell a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan in the U.S. market next year. Yes, it will be based on a Holden-developed platform. And yes: it will be sold as the 2014 Chevrolet SS.
Today’s announcement is largely hinged around the fact that Chevy’s next-gen NASCAR stock car racer – pictured above in prototype form – is allegedly patterned after the production 2014 SS sedan, though the two will share little other than design cues, cylinder counts, and drive configuration.
“I am thrilled that Chevrolet will deliver a true rear-wheel-drive NASCAR racecar in the SS that is very closely linked to the performance sedan that will be available for sale,” said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America (and former director of Holden) in a prepared statement. “The Chevrolet SS is a great example of how GM is able to leverage its global product portfolio to deliver a unique performance experience that extends beyond the track. I am personally looking forward to driving it.”
What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
Reuss, who spent several years managing GM’s Australian Holden subsidiary, has long been a vocal proponent of utilizing the rear-wheel-drive Holden Commodore platform for a new performance-oriented, rear-wheel-drive sedan. If the formula sounds familiar, it’s identical to what birthed the short-lived Pontiac G8, which was sold in North America from 2008 until the brand’s demise in 2009. But as we’ve seen over the past three years, not everyone behind the scenes at GM was as enthusiastic about the idea.
Shortly after the death of Pontiac forced the cancelation of the Pontiac G8 – itself a facelifted version of the VE-series Commodore sedan – whispers suggested work was underway to revamp the car to be sold as a Chevrolet in North America. Bob Lutz, then GM’s vice chairman and so-called “car czar,” told our editors in July of 2009 that the G8 would be imported as a Chevrolet. In his words, the car was “kind of too good to waste.”
Roughly one week after we broke that story, Lutz publicly backpedaled in an official GM blog posting. “Upon further review and careful study,” he wrote, “we simply cannot make a business case for such a program.” It was widely believe the announcement – and cancellation – was pressured by then-CEO Fritz Henderson, who dismissed ideas of selling the Commodore as a Chevy in the U.S. as mere badge engineering, despite the fact that no other GM brand was selling an identical (or similar) vehicle in the market.
The idea seemed to be revived in 2010, following Henderson’s ouster from his position, and Reuss’ appointment to chief of North American affairs. Lutz, who remained with the company after his commander-in-chief was ousted, told Drive.co.au in late 2010 that if Chevy could use Holden’s rear-drive platform for a police pursuit vehicle (which, in early 2011, it did with the Caprice PPV), it could use the platform for a civilian model as well.
“If we can pull the police car off, then we want to take a look at reintroducing a civilian version as a high-end Chevrolet,” Lutz once said. “When you get down to it, the thrill of high-performance driving is unmatched by anything that doesn’t have rear-wheel drive, bags of torque, and a nice transmission.”
While today’s announcement marks the first formal confirmation of a Holden-based Chevy sedan for the U.S., GM nearly gave up the secret several times in the past few years. In 2009, leaked documentation pertaining to the Caprice PPV also referenced a Chevrolet SS, though its model year/ timing proved a bit off. A trademark application for the SS name and logo popped up several weeks ago, and was followed up by OnStar’s website listing a “2014 SS Performance Sedan” under a list of Chevrolet models available with the telematics service.
What To Expect
GM’s release says the 2014 SS will utilize the “next-generation” VF Commodore platform, which is due to launch in Australia as a Holden in 2013. It’s widely expected the new model will be mechanically similar to the outgoing VE Commodore, which birthed the G8. Restricting the VF’s updates to powertrain and cosmetic touches theoretically makes it easier for GM to build a business case for bringing the Chevrolet SS to our market: since the heavy lifting and expensive engineering to make the VE platform DOT- and FMVSS-compliant was already performed for the G8, it pays not to stray too far from those roots and be forced to start from scratch.
It might be easy to dismiss the SS as a civilian version of the 2012 Caprice PPV, a version of the Holden WM Caprice sedan that’s imported to North America for police and law enforcement use – but that’s not exactly the case. Though the two models may share some underpinnings and mechanical components, the 2014 Chevrolet SS’ footprint will be a bit smaller. In fact, if it remains close to that of the G8, expect it to be roughly eight inches shorter overall than the Caprice, and ride upon a 115-inch wheelbase instead of the Caprice’s 119-inch span.
At this point, it’s also hard to tell exactly how much exterior sheetmetal the two will share, if any – or, for that matter, how much the SS will look like its Holden-badged sibling. The prototype NASCAR (fuzzily) shown here offers little clues, apart from revealing the outline of a large, split-level grille flanked by gaping, trapezoidal lower air intakes.
Both cars will be manufactured in Elizabeth, Australia, and imported into North America. Holden’s factories have prided themselves on building large batches of cars to export around the world, and given export programs for the VE Commodore to Brazil and the Middle East recently wound down, there’s plenty of capacity down under to spare. Exactly what that volume is remains to be seen, but in early 2009, Holden was capable of building 30,000 G8 sedans for North America annually.
Eight Is Enough
Although the VF Commodore will likely be sold with a wide array of engines, including the General’s 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6, don’t expect the SS to pack anything less than eight cylinders. Exactly which eight-cylinder will wind its way underhood, however, remains a bit of a mystery.
Yes, there’s a chance the SS could share the same 6.2-liter LS3 V-8 with the likes of the Chevrolet Camaro (which also uses a variant of Holden’s Zeta RWD platform) and the dearly departed G8 GXP – but there’s also a good chance it could help usher in a new era of small block V-8s. General Motors has been wrenching on its fifth-generation small-block for some time now, and it’s believed to be production-ready in mid-2013. That jives with the launch timing of the 2014 SS, which GM’s release says should reach the buying public in “late 2013.”
The little information GM has revealed about the Gen V LS V-8 indicates the new engine range will adopt new aluminum blocks, along with direct fuel injection. We’ve heard rumblings that the C7 Corvette will receive a 5.5-liter version of this engine range in lieu of the current base engine in the C6 – the aforementioned 6.2-liter LS3. Given this, we think it’s a very strong possibility the 2014 SS could use a version of the 5.5-liter engine, but, given traditional Chevy politics, expect it to be slightly detuned from the Vette’s version. Regardless, expect output to be on par or better than the 2009 G8 GXP, which boasted 402 hp.
That power will be sent to the SS’ rear wheels isn’t a secret, but how it will be transferred from engine to rear axle remains a bit of a mystery. GM has been working on a new eight-speed automatic for longitudinal (read: rear-drive) applications, and expects its transmission plant in Toledo, Ohio, to produce the gearbox at full volume by early 2014. Given the SS’s enthusiast target demographic, skipping a conventional manual could be nothing short of suicide; expect a six-speed ‘box to remain an option.
We expect more details to emerge over time, but don’t expect to see Chevrolet-badged SS sedans rolling into showrooms across America until late 2013, at the very earliest. If the end product is as at least as good as the G8 GXP, then we're with Reuss: we're looking forward to driving it.
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