SSR, Success or Failure
November 1, 2003
By Scott Lewis
I was anticipating the new Chevrolet SSR pickup/roadster for a long time. This "truck" was announced even before the Camaro shut down production. So, now that the truck has been road tested by some of the major magazines, will it be a success?
The SSR (Super Sport Roadster) is a pickup truck with a small bed. It uses a modified Chevy TrailBlazer chassis to provide a rear wheel drive platform. The SSR is designed with a retro theme that looks back to the early 50's pickups. The SSR's biggest claim to fame is its unique clamshell retractable hardtop.
The SSR comes equipped with a 5.3 liter V-8 engine producing around 290 horsepower. The only transmission available is a 4 speed automatic. The SSR weighs in at approximately 4500 lbs.
If you want to read more about the SSR I am sure you can find plenty of road test data. This article is more a question of whether this "vehicle" has a chance for success.
The styling of this truck has been a huge hit. That's why GM decided to build it. I happen to think it looks great. It remains very faithful to the concept truck that originally went on the car show circuit, and that clamshell roof is a marvel to watch as it goes down... or up. The truck will definitely draw attention to its owner for quite a while.
Did I mention that this truck weighs in at about 4500 lbs. That puts it about 1000 lbs. overweight for a small pickup. And this IS a small pickup. It has a bed that has wood strips and carpeting, so don't expect any serious hauling to be done with the SSR.
I want to know where is the Super in Super Sport? Chevy didn't bother to put the 345 hp/6.0 liter version of its V-8 into the SSR. The external dimensions of the 6.0 are exactly the same as the 5.3, yet the extra power would provide a significant boost in performance. As it stands, the SSR is labeled a "cruiser."
When I first heard they were thinking about making the SSR (remember the Camaro was still alive, but had a scheduled departure date) it was rumored that it might be a replacement for the Camaro. After all it was sporty and had rear wheel drive with a V-8. Unfortunately at 4500 lbs. it will never be sporty enough.
Next up is the cost. The sticker price of the SSR is supposed to be right about $42,000. Ouch! That's not a Camaro replacement. When this truck first hit the scene Chevrolet said they could build and sell it for $32,000. Woops! That's a $10,000 difference in only three years. Talk about "price subject to change."
Let's see if history gives us any clues. We have a pricey two seater that is not a luxury vehicle and is not a sports car. Hmmm! Can you say Thunderbird. And what is happening to the Thunderbird? Ford is already killing it.
If you look at the marketplace, Ford really blew it with the new Thunderbird. And they should have known better. For all the complaining that the public does about how Ford screwed up the Thunderbird back in 1958 by making it a 4 passenger car, Ford was right... then. The Thunderbird went from outselling the Corvette in the two seater market to more than doubling its own sales as a four seater. The public did not want a fancy two seater that was not a sports car.
So, the Corvette was given real performance and the Thunderbird was given more seats. Each increased sales and went onto success.
The current Thunderbird is similar to the 55-57 two seater of the same name. It is a two passenger car that is a "cruiser," not a true performace car. I think the term was "personal luxury car." Yea, whatever. The current Thunderbird does not compare well to other "luxury" two seaters, especially with its cheap parts bin interior. It cannot perform up to cars that are considered sporty. This leaves it in a class all its own.
Being the class leader is not a bad thing. The VW Beetle is almost in a class by itself, as is the PT Cruiser, to use a couple of retro styled cars as examples. These are succeeding were the Thunderbird is failing. Why? Well, for one, they are affordable. The Thunderbird was priced at close to $40,000, and most went for more than that. In a recession I don't think of $40,000 as affordable.
Besides, name one other two seater that is not a performance oriented car, or a true luxury car that has been successful. You can't. Even the Audi TT convertible and the Mercedes SLK320 offer more performance, and luxury, in small expensive two-seaters.
The Thunderbird is about $10,000 overpriced. And the SSR is at least $10,000 over priced. I mean really... how do they expect you to believe that a two seater truck cost THAT much more to build than a 350Z. The 350Z starts at about $27,000. In base trim it still has A/C, power windows & locks, etc. The convertible 350Z is supposed to cost between $32 and $37K. So why is the SSR so much more expensive with so much less performance. Is that retractable hard top that expensive to manufacture? If so, then drop the clamshell and start the SSR as a hardtop pickup for about $25,000. Us regular people can have a cool looking car/truck at an affordable price, and they can make the expensive retracting roof an expensive option for the collectors.
I am surprised Bob Lutz is letting this thing go through as is. Come on Bob, you want a low cost convertible with the Solstice, why aren't you pushing this Chevy pickup as a hardtop for well under 30 grand?
If you haven't been able to tell by my attitude, I will state it outright.. I think the SSR will fail... miserably. If you are one of those that just have to have it, and you pay more than sticker for it, you are a chump and you will be sorry. It's just not that good. If you want to spend over $40,000 for a retractable hard top get a 2 year old Mercedes Benz SLK320. You will get better performance, better luxury, better mileage, and most of all... better value. That will mean a lot at trade-in time.
Sorry SSR, but I fear your time has come and gone... all at the same time.