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Australia's hottest Holden hits US

The modified Chevrolet SS was one of the stars of the SEMA car show in Las Vegas.

This is the car on which Holden is pinning its export hopes -- and any chance of a stay of execution for the sole V8 in its line-up.

As News Corp Australia exclusively revealed overnight that a top secret SA Government report forecasts a 2016 factory shutdown for Holden and the death of a rear-wheel-drive car -- and therefore a V8  -- the Chevrolet brand unveiled the most exciting version of the export Commodore to date as cars began arriving in showrooms this month.

Designed with input from Nascar racing legend and Chevrolet dealer Jeff Gordon, the modified Chevrolet SS was one of the stars of the SEMA car show in Las Vegas, which opened overnight. It was finished in a unique metallic red that is not yet available, and a large mesh bumper insert, Number 24 graphics (Gordon’s racing number), custom-finished 20-inch wheels, and a carbon fibre rear spoiler.

Power from the 6.2-litre V8 remains unchanged (309kW and 563Nm if you’re curious) but the automatic transmission does come with "tap shift" levers on the steering, which Australian Commodores do not have yet. The link to NASCAR gives Holden its best chance yet of sales success in North America -- Chevrolet has won more races in the history of the sport than any other brand and NASCAR has one of the nation’s biggest TV audiences, with 70 million viewers annually.

"When you win races, it lifts the whole brand’s image. Opinions get better and people put you on your shopping list faster," said Jim Campbell, General Motors’ vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports.

"There’s the old adage if you win on Sunday you sell on Monday … it just depends on which Monday, it might be a week, a month, or a year, but you’ve got to earn it."

However, the sales forecasts of the Commodore are much smaller than when it was last sold in North America. John Fitzpatrick, marketing manager for Chevrolet's performance cars, told respected US industry journal in September that only "around 900" Commodores will be shipped this year. When asked if Chevrolet had targeted between 1700 and 2000 sales annually Mr Fitzpatrick told "I would agree".

"If you look at its competitors, it’s going up against the Dodge Charger SRT8, the Chrysler 300 SRT8 and the Ford Taurus SHO," Mr Fitzpatrick told "If you look at how many cars are in that segment, it is only about 3000 to 5000 cars for the entire calendar year."

The Chevrolet marketing man told reporters the US version of the Commodore would likely only be sold in about half of the company’s 3000 dealers nationwide. A figure of 2000 sales of the Chevrolet version of the Commodore would represent only about 2.5 per cent of Holden’s forecast yearly production. 

The Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has demanded Holden export 30 per cent of its production in return for an increase in taxpayer funding. If Holden cannot export in sufficient numbers, the future of the Holden factory in Elizabeth is grim.

In 2004 and 2005 Holden shipped 31,500 Monaros to the US as a Pontiac GTO -- more than twice the number of Monaros sold locally over four years. More than 41,000 Commodores were exported to North America as Pontiacs between November 2007 and February 2009, almost equivalent to Holden’s annual sales of Commodore at the time -- but the deal ended when the Pontiac brand was axed in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.

At least Jeff Gordon likes the car. When his new Nascar was unveiled at Las Vegas earlier this year, he told News Corp Australia he would like to thank Australia for "keeping the faith" with V8 performance sedans. "Thank you to Australia for making that happen and allowing it to come to us," Gordon told News Corp Australia. "I applaud you guys for that."

In recent years NASCARs have not resembled the road cars on which they are based. But new rules for 2013 made the Commodore the ideal candidate and Gordon says the Commodore’s sleek shape "the closest to my race car it’s ever been".

"I think the race car should always be a street car on steroids and that’s what we have. I think it’s great for the sport," he said. "This is closest that we’ve ever had a street car to a race car look."

Meanwhile, a ‘Commodore’ is leading the 2013 Nascar championship, with Chevrolet SS driver Jimmie Johnson leading the series after 34 races and with two to go. Jeff Gordon was in third place in the series in the lead-up to the last race, the Texas 500, but dropped to sixth after finishing last in Texas with car trouble.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling