Unless you’ve lived through it, you have no idea what it’s like to slog through the colossal Detroit auto show media preview. There were something like 50 new vehicle reveals spread out over two days, a press conference every 45 minutes or so. In the blur it’s easy to miss something. Fortunately, I live in the Detroit area so if I manage to not get photos or video of an important reveal or new-to-the-NAIAS vehicle, I can always go back during the Industry Preview that follows the press days. While reading Derek Kreindler’s NAIAS recap I realized that one of the cars that I missed was the Chevrolet SS performance sedan. A couple of months ago our colleague Bark M speculated that General Motors was not trying very hard to sell the new $44,000 SS. After photographing the SS at the NAIAS, I think that Bark M might have been on to something.
I was wondering how I missed the SS until I went back to Cobo Hall during the industry days. While it’s not as crowded as the public show, just about anyone in Detroit can probably figure out a way to get a ticket so there are still more people than during the media event and from the crowds (or lack of them) around the vehicles you can get an idea of which ones are likely to be popular when the show goes public. As I worked my way through the half dozen or so photographic fill-ins that I needed I headed towards the Volvo booth along the far northern wall of the convention center. On my way to Volvo I passed right by the Chevrolet booth. Scanning the display, at first I couldn’t find the SS, it wasn’t on the show floor. Figuring I could check again after shooting the V60 sportwagon, I turned towards the Volvo booth and as my head spun I caught a flash of red from the smaller upper deck of Chevy’s two story display. Ah, so that’s where it is.
Chevy had devoted the upper level to motorsports, more specifically Indycar and NASCAR, with a couple of the Dallara built cars used in the open wheel series, a Gen 6 NASCAR racer in Chevy SS trim, a Chevy SS pace car used in that series, and, on the public side of the barriers, that red Chevrolet SS. Now the funny thing is that I’d been upstairs in the Chevy display before. I shot video of the Z06 and C7R Corvette reveals from the stairs and I’d set my camera back up near the Indycars. Perhaps my powers of observation are declining in my advancing old age and decripitude, and I was rather focused on getting a decent sight line to the stage, but I hadn’t noticed either the pace car or the street SS when I was up there. I did notice the Indycars, and the Borg Warner Trophy in a display case, but the NASCAR display was at the far end of the upper level.
Actually, if you didn’t take the time to go upstairs, you wouldn’t know that it’s devoted to the Chevy SS and Chevy motorsports. There’s a sign at the very top of the stairway, but no signboards or anything downstairs that might drive foot traffic to the upper part of the display. To give you some historical perspective of how Chevy regards that upper level’s ability to help sell retail product, if I’m not mistaken, last year they used the second floor to display some of Chevy’s international products, vehicles not for sale in North America.
After I finished shooting photos of the SS and pace car, as I walked towards the staircase, two men passed me. I only caught a glimpse of one of them as I hurried, but the name Ryan Newman on his credentials made the synapses connect and I wheeled around to follow them as they walked towards the SS. The other man was Jim Campbell, who is in charge of performance cars and motorsports at General Motors. No matter what the upper level folks in GM’s PR department think about TTAC, as a writer I’ve always been treated graciously by people working for GM, including Campbell.
Seizing the opportunity, I asked Newman if he thought it’d be possible to build an actual stock car racer, from a production vehicle, with an advanced roll cage, and have the result be as safe as the scratch built tube frame Gen 6 cars, and he said not at the speeds they currently race at, mentioning the 218 mph he did at Michigan International Speedway. Then I asked Campbell why, if they were serious about selling the Chevy SS, did they hide it upstairs? He said that the motorsports display was a great place to promote the SS. He has a good point, but it was obvious that there was less foot traffic up there than down on the show floor. At the time, I believe that we were the only ones upstairs.
Nothing reaches production and goes on sale at a car company these days without some kind of business case being made for it. I’ve written about the factory NHRA drag racers like the COPO Camaro, Drag Pak Challenger and Cobra Jet Mustang and the people at GM, Chrysler and Ford unanimously told me that their programs had to be justified on a dollars and cents basis. I assume the same is true of the Chevrolet SS but it sure doesn’t look like they’re trying that hard to sell that many examples of a car that you and I would probably enjoy driving.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS