GM tightens up usage of SS label
General Motors Corp. is rethinking the way its uses the SS moniker that has adorned souped-up Chevrolets since 1961.
SS -- for super sport -- has traditionally signaled performance versions of vehicles like the Camaro, Impala and most recently the Cobalt sedan.
The automaker felt it was getting a bit carried away with the label after putting it on the most recent version of the Malibu midsize sedan. So now only cars with the best horsepower, braking power and handling will get the title.
It's part of GM's bid to stoke sales by building exclusivity into some models, a move the automaker hopes will burnish the overall image of a brand and make other vehicles from the same nameplate more attractive to buyers.
"Not every car that has some extra features and fancy racing stripes can be an SS," said Ed Welburn, GM Design global vice president.
GM will start the transition with the introduction next year of a new sport version of the Equinox compact SUV. The vehicle will have 42 percent more horsepower than the basic Equinox and other performance enhancing features, but will be labeled a sport as opposed to an SS. At the same time, GM will no longer offer a SS version of the Malibu.
"That's one that probably shouldn't have gotten the SS label," Chevrolet Marketing Director Cheryl Catton said.
Automakers often use special edition vehicles to give their brands an image boost. Such vehicles rarely deliver high sales numbers, but can help generate buzz around a company's lineup.
"They might want to be more careful with the vehicles they stick that badge on," said Brian Moody, road test editor with Edmunds.com. When used properly, he said, sport labels "may drum up interest in the brand down the line."
The image boost that comes with distinguishable lineups can help improve a vehicle's selling power as well as increase its resale value, another important factor for car buyers.
Each brand gets own identity
GM has struggled to define its vehicles in the eyes of consumers, with a murky brand portfolio and often indistinguishable characteristics between its cars and trucks.
But the company has made it a top priority to turn that around and give each brand a distinct identity. Buick, for example, will aim for an image of luxury and refinement. Pontiac wants to come across as stylish and performance-oriented.
"For this to be a truly great company, we need to deliver on the product side," said GM sales chief Mark LaNeve, speaking Thursday during a media preview of the GM exhibit under construction at the North American International Auto Show.
LaNeve said GM is having success already that has helped stem market losses in the automaker's North American operations. He said GM expects to hold or slightly increase its market share -- about 25 percent at the end of November -- in 2007.
Part of GM's image efforts will go public next month at the auto show, where the automaker is entirely rebuilding its display to showcase each brand separately yet still under the GM umbrella.
"Now, from the beginning, we build a car to match the characteristics of the brand, " LaNeve said.