"This is not a return of the Pontiac G8."
Yesterday on a stage on the Encore Theater at The Wynn Resort in Las Vegas, Chevrolet revealed its NASCAR SS, the race car that will contest next year's Sprint Cup series. A lot of people are talking about this car, and doing so well beyond the NASCAR fraternity – we were told that 30 minutes after it began the car became the number one trending topic on Twitter. The car looks great, Jeff Gordon showed up for some banter, everyone who was there applauded, the assembled drivers said the the right things.
But it was at lunch after the event with Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America, and Jim Caldwell, US vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports, that we learned what we really wanted to know. That story centered on the car that the NASCAR Chevrolet SS heralds, the production Chevrolet SS that will go on sale late next year. Reuss was quick to lay out two of the biggest issues surrounding it: "The only reason we brought this car over is to go racing," and "This is not a return of the Pontiac G8."
So let's get the obligatory NASCAR derision out of the way first, shall we? Yes, NASCAR Chevrolet SS is the Bowtie's version of NASCAR's 2013 not-really-Car-of-Tomorrow, meaning it's got a tube-frame chassis that you won't find on the options sheet of the production SS. And yes, it's covered in decals that mimic the features and lines of the SS production car, except for the rather important part where it has just two doors to the production car's four doors. So no, it's not exactly a stock car, and even if it wins on Sunday you can't really buy it on Monday.
Yet the 2013 car – no longer called the CoT – is a huge step for NASCAR, nearly two years in the works, to try to get more "stock" back into the series. Primary reasons for the seven-year development of the 2007 CoT were driver safety, lower costs and improved competition, but the formula went so far that teams were running "a template car, it was just decals," Reuss said. A press colleague added, "You couldn't tell what car was coming out of Turn 4 until you saw the number." "It became about drivers and sponsors," said Reuss, "and we said 'hey, we need to get back to the stock car roots.'"
Chevrolet was one of the first manufacturers to go to NASCAR executives to suggest a collaboration on a new formula. Caldwell said the three hot points that Chevrolet had were that "We want the car we race to be the car we sell," which is also about how the race car looks, "we want relevant technologies and we want biofuels." NASCAR could address two of those, which next year's car does. If you're wondering about the biofuels request, here's a look at just some of Chevrolet's manfacturer and engine supplier championship victories in 2012: Ryan Hunter-Reay's championship-winning Indycar uses a Chevy V6, the C6.R Corvette took the ALMS GT series, as did the Grand Am Daytona prototype Corvette, the Chevy Cruze took the World Touring Car Championship, Holden nabbed Australia's V8 Supercars championship. All those other series use ethanol.
Beyond the surface initiative of the first request – and a look at the Stock Surfaces slide (above) reveals a close similarity between the NASCAR SS and the one you'll be able to buy – there was also work for Chevy to do. That's why the front-wheel-drive Impala is out and the rear-wheel-drive, small-block-V8-powered SS is in.
Reuss has a particular interest in what happens with the SS because he was Managing Director at Holden while the next-generation Holden Commodore, the VE series – the car that is the SS in its original guise – was being developed. He said that from inception, it was decided that the VE series would be the car that would become Chevrolet's RWD halo sedan, rumors from three years ago even pegging it as a Chevy SS, and spearhead its NASCAR efforts.
There are two ways in which the SS will not be the Pontiac G8 2.0: It's going upmarket and it's not for the masses.
The Australia-to-US move has been tried before with the Pontiac Monaro and G8, neither one working out as hoped. There are two vital ways in which the SS will not be The Pontiac G8 2.0, however: It's going upmarket and it's not for the masses.
In fact, Reuss said the SS is a completely different car from the G8, specifically in terms of refinement and NVH, and that's before you get to the high-power small-block V8 that, in his words, makes the SS "a four-door Corvette." The user interface, the tactile points, the perceived and real touches are a step in another direction, "quite different" is what we were told. Above that, Reuss said the entire SS package has been about making sure all aspects of the car fit together. "The integration in NVH, ride and handling has to match, and the refinement of the car will match the performance of the car." The meaning for us is, "Don't expect this to be like the G8 or the G8 GXP." We should expect it to be better. We don't have a problem with that, since the G8 GXP was one of our favorite cars.
The high-power small-block V8, in his words, makes the SS "a four-door Corvette."
Any time you mention the word Corvette, you're probably not talking about an inexpensive car. Add two more doors, three more seats, the tuning work needed to keep the word "Corvette" in the conversation and the phrase "halo car," and you're definitely not talking about an inexpensive vehicle. Therefore, Chevy is treating the SS like a halo car: Instead of making grand predictions about production volumes or churning out a performance car that sits on dealer lots, Reuss said, "We will fill the orders of the people who want them."
In terms of where SS buyers might also be looking, Caldwell said, "We're in a unique spot because there isn't a lot of competition at the Chevy level."
Chevy is treating the SS like a halo car.
When we succumbed to asking the boilerplate "Who is this car for?" question that always comes up when a manufacturer presents an upmarket offering, Reuss looked thoughtful and said, "Anyone who has the right amount of money and shows up in a Chevrolet dealership, we will sell them this car." Point taken. "You don't want to overthink this stuff – we haven't focus-grouped it," he added. "It's going to be a really good car. People are going to want it." Right on.
Said buyer could be faced with a shorter options sheet than that of the G8, though, Reuss saying "Pontiac had all kinds of options and trim levels [for the G8]. This will be different." Again, this sounds like halo-car talk.
We haven't focus-grouped it... It's going to be a really good car. People are going to want it."
As for the name, there is a bit of heritage to the SS badge as a nameplate, but it seems this was more about steering clear of what has come before. There was an SS concept car in 2003, and in 1957 there was a factory-backed SS racing project that used the Corvette but it didn't get beyond a few laps of of one race. "We raced the Impala, Monte Carlo, Regal, Grand Prix, and they were all front-wheel-drive in their last [production] versions," Reuss said, "and we didn't want to come up with a new name for it." As such, what's happening now is also about returning some lustre to the SS badge, assuming it wins on Sunday come 2013: Reuss said he purged all of the SS models from the Chevrolet line-up except on the Camaro because none of the other offerings were about increased performance, only trim pieces, which is a bit of a slap in the face to an acronym for "Super Sport."
It will be three months before we see the production version of the SS revealed at Daytona Speed Week, the same week the NASCAR SS hits the track, but almost a year before we can buy it. Asked by another journo whether he thought the SS was American enough, Reuss said – hinting at the decades-old icon it will house in its engine bay – "It's American enough."
While we wait for that verdict, there's a press release with more info on the NASCAR SS below, a large gallery of high-res photos above.
Will Debut at the 2013 Daytona SpeedWeeks in February
LAS VEGAS – Chevrolet today opened a new chapter in its storied racing history, unveiling its eagerly anticipated 2013 NASCAR Chevrolet SS race car. Powered by the legendary small block V-8 engine, the rear-wheel drive performance sedan will be Chevrolet's newest entry in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, beginning with the 2013 SpeedWeeks in Daytona, Fla.
The new NASCAR race car closely resembles the all-new rear wheel drive V-8 Chevrolet SS performance sedan that will debut early next year.
"As a passionate race fan, the debut of the SS NASCAR race car is a genuinely exciting moment for me," said GM North America President Mark Reuss. "With the SS, Chevrolet is delivering a true rear-wheel-drive NASCAR race car that is very closely linked to the performance sedan that will be available for sale, ensuring that our most loyal enthusiasts will have the opportunity to experience the same thrill every day on the open road that our race car drivers enjoy on the track on race day.
"The Chevrolet SS also demonstrates how we are able to leverage our global product portfolio to deliver a unique performance experience," Reuss said. "The specialized development and testing work done for the race car will certainly benefit the entire Chevrolet product lineup."
The Chevrolet SS is the next in a long line of famed nameplates that Chevrolet has campaigned in NASCAR. It replaces Impala, which scored 152 wins from 1959-64 and 2007-12.
"We are looking forward to another exciting year of NASCAR competition and expect that the new SS race car, with some of the most skilled drivers on the circuit behind the wheel, will distinguish itself on the track," said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports.
The Chevrolet SS will be a derivative of the award-winning global rear-wheel-drive architecture that spawns performance vehicles like Chevrolet Camaro and Holden's upcoming VF Commodore. The limited production version of the Chevrolet SS will be a 2014 model and will arrive in dealer showrooms in late 2013. It is the first time in 17 years that Chevrolet will offer a rear-wheel-drive sedan for sale in the United States.
Chevrolet has long used the SS (Super Sport) designation on high-performance models of some of its most enduring nameplates. The SS designation first appeared in 1957 on a Corvette prototype race car built under the guidance of Zora Arkus-Duntov with the plan to enter it in the Le Mans 24-hour race.
The first production vehicle to be offered with an SS optional package was the 1961 Impala – 453 were built with the performance upgrades, which included a modified chassis and suspension, power brakes, a steering column mounted tachometer and unique wheels and tires. The SS designation returned to the Chevrolet lineup in 2010 with the debut of the fifth-generation Camaro.
Chevrolet has 702 victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, more than any other manufacturer. Fonty Flock earned the manufacturer's first win on March 26, 1955, at Columbia, S.C. Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson achieved Chevrolet's 700th victory earlier this month at Texas Motor Speedway.
Chevrolet was America's best-selling performance car brand in 2011 with Camaro and Corvette accounting for one out of every three sports cars sold in the United States. The addition of the SS to the lineup is expected to further strengthen Chevrolet's position as a leading performance brand.
What they're saying about the Chevrolet SS:
JIM CAMPBELL, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT PERFORMANCE VEHICLES AND MOTORSPORTS:
"It's exciting to finally lift the camouflage off the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet SS. It'll be great to be racing a Chevy small block V-8, rear-wheel drive car on the race track and selling a Chevy small block V-8, rear-wheel drive Chevrolet SS in the showroom. The SS has a great history – it stands for Super Sport – and I can't wait to see the Chevrolet SS on the opening lap of the Daytona 500 and for the rest of the 2013 season."
MARK KENT, DIRECTOR CHEVROLET RACING:
"It's going to be exciting to see the new Chevrolet SS on track, continuing our quest for more product relevance. We have bio fuels, fuel injection and now we have a car that is closely tied to its production counterpart. So, it's going to be exciting to see these cars on track. We think the fans are really going to enjoy seeing the new car, and we think it is going to be great for the racing. The new car is an example of how the manufacturers working hand-in-hand with NASCAR resulted in a product that we are very proud of. It's going to be not only product relevant, but also very exciting on the track."
PAT SUHY, NASCAR GROUP MANAGER CHEVROLET RACING:
"It was a great opportunity to have my group work on a race car design, and use the same tools and methodologies that we use on production cars. We used math to develop it, built the prototype, tested it in the wind tunnel, got feedback from our leadership on the styling, and got feedback from our teams on the aero performance. We had a really good time working with all of the people from our teams and NASCAR really pushing the envelope much further than we ever thought we could."
JIMMIE JOHNSON – NO. 48 HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS:
"It's been a huge effort, and the times that I have driven the 2013 Chevrolet SS race car, I've been very impressed. I'm excited for Chevrolet, and really for all the manufacturers to have such a cool looking race car. The cars look sharp; they look good; I think the fans are going to be excited to go to the showrooms and buy these vehicles. We have been able to work on them from an aero balance. I know that my friends at GM are awfully smart, and are going to give me a great car to go race with."
KASEY KAHNE – NO. 5 HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS:
"I think the car is going to be great. They just have to figure out the final touches are that they put on it for everybody. When I tested it at Homestead at the start of the year, and then the Talladega test, both times I was really happy with what we had. When I was in the car I felt like it was really nice and it drove really good."
KEVIN HARVICK – NO. 29 RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING:
"I think it's one of the most important moves that NASCAR and the manufacturers have made in a very long time. Just for the fact that the cars on the race track will be very significant in looking like the cars on the showroom floor. I think from a manufacturer's standpoint it's probably the most important move that has happened in I don't even know how long, but a really long time. For the fans to have that relevance from the race track to the showroom is important."
TONY STEWART – NO. 14 STEWART-HAAS RACING:
"The new SS looks awesome. That's the great thing – it's back to looking like a production car again. It's a design that I really like. It's got the perfect blend of having a race car look, but a street car look at the same time; and that's hard to do. No matter what you're a fan of, you're going to be able to pick out your favorite brand of car and see it from the stands."
JEFF GORDON – NO. 24 HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS:
"I'm really excited about the new Chevy SS. It looks great and drives great. There is still some development work to do to fine-tune everything, but I can't wait to get in that car for next year."
DALE EARNHARDT, JR. – NO. 88 HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS:
"I've had the opportunity to see the Chevy SS and it's really an incredibly good-looking race car. It looks like it's ready to go fast; it looks like it's going to be competitive, and it looks like it's going to be a lot of fun to drive. It looks like something Chevrolet should be proud of."
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING:
"First of all the car is beautiful. I think the new design of really making a race car look like a street car is a huge step in the right direction, especially when the street car looks good. It really is a good-looking race car. It gets us more to where we need to be from an aesthetics standpoint. From a competition stand point NASCAR is really working hard to not just make this about aesthetics, but to make 2013 about better racing, closer racing, more fun to watch, more fun to do by the way. I'm real excited about that. In the testing that I have done with them we have done things that didn't work and we've done things that did work. They have a lot of information to go on now and really that is what I'm most excited about. I think our fans want us racing closer. They want better action. We have to work really hard at it because we run a lot of 1.5-mile race tracks and it's hard to have good close racing on 1.5-mile tracks. The concept of making the car so that we can race better together I'm a big proponent of, and I think that is going to be hugely positive."
JAMIE MCMURRAY, NO 1 EARNHARDT GANASSI RACING:
"We've done a lot of testing with the 2013 Chevy and it seems to have a lot of speed. It handles really well and I'm looking forward to getting to all the rest of our testing and then getting to Daytona and actually getting to see all the cars painted up for the first time."
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 42 EARNHARDT GANASSI RACING:
"I think it looks amazing. From what I've seen, I did the photo shoot already with the car, the race car looks amazing. It looks great. I think it has a lot of personality. It looks like a proper Chevy that I think is great. Knowing that the street car is going to be close to that, I can't even wait for it."
KURT BUSCH, NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW RACING:
"I am excited about the new look of the Chevrolet SS -- the SS name symbolizes sportiness and speed, and to wrap that into a 4-door rear-wheel drive sedan will be exciting to see the final product. Overall, the way the identity of the brand, the Chevrolet and SS, will now be promoted in NASCAR is the look that we've been needing."
CHAD KNAUS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 48 CHEVROLET SS:
"We are very excited about the new '13 Chevy SS race car, and can't wait to get it on-track full-time next year. At Hendrick Motorsports, we have been involved in the development process and have worked closely with the Chevy engineers. There will be some challenges, but I enjoy a good challenge. I do think it will create good racing on the track. In typical Chevrolet fashion, it has high-qualify parts and is definitely a great looking car!"
KENNY FRANCIS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 5 HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS:
"I think the new race car will be an interesting new challenge. The rules are quite a bit different than what we have been working with lately. The aerodynamics are going to be a lot different. It's a lot cooler looking car compared to what we have now. Everybody is excited about that. It's going to present a unique opportunity and some challenges for everyone. We are just looking forward to it."
GIL MARTIN, CREW CHIEF, NO. 29 RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING:
"I'm just excited about it because it's a completely different look than what we have had in the past. I think it's going to offer us a lot more opportunities for aerodynamic changes on the car. I think the fans are going to be able to relate to it because it looks like something they can get in the showroom. The car seems like it's going to be a lot more stable in race traffic. The handling characteristics of the car is that it has a lot more grip, so the cars are going to handle a lot better. I think that is going to promote a lot better racing than what we have had in the past. I'm looking forward to it and it's going to be fun."
SLUGGAR LABBE, CREW CHIEF, NO. 27 CHEVROLET SS:
"I've been part of four of the '13 tests. My first one was at Texas. To see where they started to where they are today is a huge improvement. You've got to give NASCAR credit for working with the manufacturers and the teams to make it better. Obviously, if we didn't do all that testing we might have started the season off not as good as what we had hoped. It took a lot of effort from a lot of people to get to that point. They are still tweaking on the rules a little bit, but I think for the most part they feel confident that we have a really good package. The rules that they are going to make are really small. I'm really excited about it. They seem to race better now, more so than what we have today. With what we have done at the tracks, but we went to Charlotte Motor Speedway two weeks ago and we ran 740 miles. Jeff Burton was worn out. He did a lot for us. We definitely learned a lot. Again, you just have to compliment NASCAR for really reaching out and saying 'hey look guys let's make this the best we can be.' They really haven't done that in the past."
TODD BERRIER, CREW CHIEF, NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW RACING:
"Obviously the '13 race car has a lot of style and a lot of things the current race car doesn't have. It's nice to have a car that has some character built in it instead of something that looks the way the current car we have does. That part of it is really encouraging. I think the car is appealing to look at compared to what we had before. That part makes it a lot of fun. There are a lot of shapes and things that maybe will allow us to work in areas that we have not worked in the past. There are now at least some differences in the brands and difference in things like that, which will maybe cause some disparity across the field that will enable us to pass and have good racing."
JIM POHLMAN, EARNHARDT GANASSI TEST TEAM COORDINATOR:
"I think having a new style car is what we have needed for a while here in NASCAR. I think it gives a little brand identity back, which is going to be huge for our fans. So that we can get them back in touch with the race cars; it's going to be a big deal for us. I like a lot of things about the car. I really love the clear shark fin. I think that really helps with the brand identity. I like the shape of the car, the slope of the front windshield, and the rear glass. I love how they have put all the character back into the car with the wheel flares, and the body character in the nose and tail. I really think that those details are the kind of thing that fans are looking for to reconnect with the car."
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world's largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature spirited performance, expressive design and high quality. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.