RICK KRANZ

Race is on to uncover Chevy's newest nameplate headed to showrooms

Automotive News | March 16, 2012 - 4:24 pm EST

There's a lot of buzz surrounding Chevy's mysterious new model.

I'm betting it's the vehicle former GM product czar Bob Lutz talked about a few years ago.

Earlier this week, Chevy announced that the brand's NASCAR teams will be racing a vehicle that carries a new nameplate. "Impala" is being abandoned at the end of the NASCAR season for a new nameplate.

This is not something that would normally peek my interest.

But what caught the attention of occasional NASCAR followers like myself was the announcement the race car will closely resemble the production version.

Closely resemble the production version?

That's news, and Chevy says it won't be carrying Malibu, let alone Spark or Sonic badging. It will be a new nameplate. Chevy won't say if one of the nameplates in its rich heritage will be revived.

During a conversation with Lutz a few years ago, he mentioned that Chevrolet needed a rear-wheel drive performance sedan to draw buyers to the brand. At that time Lutz was vice chairman for product development at General Motors.

He described a kind of spiritual successor to the 1994-1996 Impala SS. That car was distinguished by the Corvette V-8 under the hood. Jim Perkins, former head of Chevrolet, gets credit for the car, a car that's held in high regard today by collectors.

Lutz said the new generation Impala SS would be developed by Holden down in Australia on the subsidiary's rear-wheel drive architecture.

Pontiac got a version called the G8 GTP, back in 2009, which packed a 402-hp 6.2-liter V-8. Chevy didn't. Blame GM's bankruptcy.

Last year, Chevy teased enthusiasts with the Caprice, a V-8-powered sedan from Holden that's available to law enforcement agencies. Chevy enthusiasts pined and speculated about a U.S. civilian version of the Caprice.

Some time in the next several months Chevrolet will disclose the new nameplate, unveil the production car and the racing version for NASCAR tracks. We will see just how close in terms of styling the race car is to the production version.

Why is that news?

NASCAR dictates the shape of today's stock cars, meaning what essentially distinguishes a Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford or Toyota on the track are the car's color and graphics, and the brand's name positioned on the vehicle.

Every race car body is essentially the same shape, probably coming from the same mold. While the graphics say Impala, Charger, Fusion and Camry, the car bodies lack the distinctive shape of the retail units. One body fits all in NASCAR -- that's essentially the rule. It's pretty boring.

But NASCAR changed the rules for the 2013 season. Automakers can incorporate a few styling cues seen on the retail car. Charger, Fusion and Toyota versions have been unveiled, and, yes, there's a closer resemblance to the retail versions. NASCAR enthusiasts can feel like they are closer to driving their favorite driver's racing machine.

But I think Chevy trumped each by adopting a new nameplate, separating this new performance car from its mainstream models. The strategy will create a buzz for the brand, drawing consumers to showroom to see Chevy's hot new car, which just might translate into sales for those other models in the product line.

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

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