For the first time in nearly two decades, GM's Chevrolet brand will be back in the business of selling rear-wheel-drive sedans in the United States.
General Motors Co expects the production version of the Chevrolet SS rear-wheel-drive sedan to act as a low-volume car meant to build excitement around the brand, the head of the automaker's North American operations said on Thursday.
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The car gives GM its first nonluxury rear-wheel-drive sedan since it stopped selling the Pontiac G8 in 2009. When the SS makes its debut, it will be the first time in 17 years Chevy sells a rear-wheel-drive sedan in the United States excluding the police car it currently offers.
GM unveiled the NASCAR racing version of the Chevy SS in Las Vegas on Thursday and plans to show the production model during the Daytona 500 race in Florida in February. The Australian-built car will go on sale in the third or fourth quarter of 2013 as a 2014 model.
"This is going to be a pull on demand from our dealers and customers," Mark Reuss, head of GM's North American operations, said in a telephone interview.
"This is quite different than a big, high-volume production program with target volumes," he added. "It doesn't have to do anything. We're using it to race. You have to think of it almost like a marketing halo program for Chevrolet."
Reuss said he expects GM, which sells the rear-wheel-drive Camaro and Corvette coupes, to sell fewer than 10,000 SS performance sedans annually. The SS will be built on the same vehicle platform as the Camaro and Holden VE Commodore.
Rear-wheel-drive cars offer better performance attributes than front-wheel-drive models, including acceleration, braking and handling.
The starting price for the SS will be determined closer to vehicle launch, but Reuss said it will be higher than the front-wheel-drive Chevy Impala's base price of $27,535. Reuss said he does not see the SS detracting from sales of other Chevy vehicles because it is so different.
The NASCAR version of the SS closely resembles the production model, something the sport had moved away from in recent years as it pushed to make race cars safer, resulting in more homogenous cars.
NASCAR has worked with the automakers in recent years to reintroduce the individual traits of each brand's cars, an effort that will be seen next season. Reuss said the SS race car puts "the 'stock' back in stock car."
The SS replaces the Chevy Impala as GM's race car in NASCAR.
Chevy has long used the SS (Super Sport) designation on high-performance models. It first appeared in 1957 on a Corvette prototype race car, and the fist production vehicle with an SS option package was the 1961 Impala. The SS designation returned to the Chevy lineup in 2010 with the debut of the fifth-generation Camaro.
(This story has been corrected in the third paragraph to show SS is first nonluxury sedan with rear-wheel drive since 2009; some luxury Cadillacs have rear-wheel drive)
(Reporting by Ben Klayman; editing by Matthew Lewis)