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Chevy SS could be Commodore's saviour

I stumbled across a case this week at Daytona Beach in the United States of all places where GM was launching the brand new Chevy SS sports sedan.

Nothing ironic about that, apart from the fact it's a Holden through and through and the first Chevrolet in two decades to have rear-wheel drive, something of an asset in the world of motor sport.

The launch comes at a time when the future of Holden's homegrown product, the rear-wheel drive Commodore hangs in the balance.

Sales continue to fall, it has been outsold by the smaller Cruze for more than a year and will most likely be replaced sooner than later by a front-wheel drive Chevrolet, built on the same production line that currently produces Commodores and badged as a Commodore. Now that's what I call ironic.

We were in Daytona for the famous Daytona 500 stock car race where the new Chevy SS, the soon to be launched Commodore VF in Chevy clothing was getting ready to make its race debut.

Described by GM heavyweight Mark Reuss as a four-door Corvette, the V8 powered SS represents yet another opportunity for Holden to prop up declining sales of Commodore which have plunged more than 60 per cent over the past few years.

It follows in the footsteps of other Holden hopefuls, exported to the US under the defunct Pontiac badge, as well as the long wheelbase Caprice that has scored limited success, supplied in dribs and drabs as a patrol car to police forces across the country.

Holden is hoping to export at least 5000 Chevrolet SSs a year, designed and built right here in Australia but powered by a 6.2-litre V8 instead of the standard Holden 6.0-litre unit. It's the same engine that powers the current Corvette hero car, which is likely to be a big drawcard for Americans.

In Australia, the 6.2-litre LS3 engine is reserved for Holden's high performance, HSV line of vehicles. Where previous efforts have faltered, Reuss, who once ran the Holden franchise in Australia, believes this time they've got it right, with an SS that is a premium product based on the top of the range Calais V and priced accordingly although that price is yet to be revealed.

What's all this mean for Australia?

Perhaps a stay of execution for the Commodore as we know it. Holden has confirmed the name will live on, but not necessarily on the back of a car designed and built in Australia. In 2015, it is planning to introduce a new Cruze based on a new platform.

Two years later, a second new "global" platform will be added but it is not saying at this stage what vehicle that will support. In the meantime, Holden has expanded its body production facilities.

Some punters are suggesting that it has the capacity to continue building a rear-drive car, perhaps even a range of performance-focused vehicles alongside the new ones much the same as Nissan has been doing for some time with some of its models of late.

As long as there is a demand for the car, Holden will continue to build the Commodore, Reuss says. The extra demand generated by sales of the Chevrolet SS can only help. Reuss concedes the project is a bit of an experiment, but one about which they are passionate.

Almost as soon as they started work on the VF Commodore, he says they started planning the Chevrolet. Resources from both GM and Holden were poured into the project, resulting in a better car all round -- in the case of Commodore the best yet if you believe the spin doctors.

A prerequisite of the plan was that the car had to have the ability to compete on the race track as a stock car, in a field dominated these days by a swarm of front-wheel drive vehicles.

Reuss says it is crucial to have a car racing in front of the public that is as close to stock as possible, that Americans can go out and actually buy. The success of one could well be the saviour of the other, particularly in Australia where Holden sold just 30,000 Commodores last year 40,000 if you count exports.

"I'd love to tell you this is going to run until 2020 in Australia. I'd love say that but we haven't sold one car yet," Reuss said.

Chevrolet on the other hand was America's best-selling performance brand last year, with Camaro and Corvette accounting for one in three sports cars sold in the United States.

The man in the street is pretty excited about the cool new Chevy -- perhaps we should be too? (Check even the cleaner at our hotel owns a bloody Camaro).


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