Tim O'Brien | May 18, 2012

HOLDEN VF COMMODORE THE NEXT CHEVROLET SS SEDAN

Holden Australia's head of engineering Greg Tyus today announced that the next model Commodore, the VF, is to return to the North American market badged as the Chevrolet SS.

To be marketed as a premium "limited production" RWD high-performance sedan, exports are set to begin "late 2013". Remarkably, it will be the first rear-wheel-drive Chevrolet sedan to be offered in the US in 17 years.

Key to the announcement is news that the hi-po SS is to carry the Chevrolet badge for its NASCAR Sprint Cup racing program, and will debut next year in race trim at the Daytona 400.

GM US boss Mark Reuss (who for 18 months until September 2009 headed up Holden Australia), said, “I am delighted to say that Chevrolet will deliver a true rear-wheel-drive NASCAR racecar in the SS that very closely links the performance sedan that will be available for sale.”

Developed and engineered by Holden Australia, with weight-saving and fuel efficiency technologies, this is a coup for Holden and its highly-respected Australian engineering arm.

"Today's announcement shows that (Holden) can, and will, continue to pursue targeted, profitable export programs that add value to Holden and GM.

“We continue to export our engineering and design capability around the GM world and we have significant vehicle export programs to the Middle East, New Zealand and North America," Mr Tyus said.

The announcement is also good news for the Federal Government who pledged $275million in a tax-payer funded 'co-investment' program with GM Holden to assist in the development of two all-new models to be produced at the Adelaide plant.

Volumes unclear - but capacity at Adelaide for additional 9000 units

Unlike the former Pontiac G8 export program, export volumes for this limited production high-end derivative can be expected to be relatively modest.

chevrolet ss logo

Both Holden and GM US are tight-lipped at the moment on sales projections and volumes for the new car.

However, Holden Product Communications Manager Kate Lonsdale said that the export program "is expected to fit within the current production capabilities and plant capacity" at GM Holden's SA Elizabeth plant, and with no changes to current shifts.

Earlier this year, in a media teleconference announcing shift changes at Holden's Adelaide facility, Holden boss Mike Devereux commented that, in line with best-practice high-volume plants in other markets, optimum production capacity at the Adelaide plant is around 100,000 units annually.

Holden built 90,424 cars in 2011, achieving an $89million operating profit.

Assuming it can hang onto something like current volumes in the local market and in exports to the Middle East, New Zealand, Brazil and South Africa, plus its police vehicle exports to North America, that will leave a maximum capacity of around 9000 vehicles for this export program.

Power outputs and price point

What's planned-for under the bonnet, how it is to be priced and just how far up the 'premium performance sedan' ladder the Chevrolet SS sits in the US market is also speculative at this point.

There are some reports that it is being benchmarked in testing here against the likes of Dodge's R/T Max Charger. Given the expected relatively low volumes under this program, that appears unlikely.

Even in R/T Max configuration, the Charger starts at $36,195 (MRP) in the US market - too low a price point, you would think, for a low volume "top of the range" model.

More likely, the Chev SS will line up somewhere below, but not too far distant from, Cadillac's RWD CTS-V performance sedan at $64,515 (with a 408kW 6.2 litre V8).

We'll keep you posted as more information comes to light.

In a year of self-examination of local manufacturing and of its long-term viability, this latest announcement is very good news for Holden and confirmation of the Commodore's place in GM's current global product portfolio.

And the announcement today might not be the end of the matter.

With Holden continuing "to pursue targeted profitable export programs", the door perhaps remains open for the SS ute and Sportwagon to follow. Predictably, Holden is tight-lipped on this also.

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