PALM SPRINGS, CA – Already selling more performance cars in the U.S. than any other brand, the Chevrolet division of General Motors brings to market this month the SS sedan, a V-8-powered muscle car leveraging the old-fashioned “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” marketing approach.

“The Chevy SS allows us to link the showroom with our racing program,” says Dave Leone, chief engineer-GM performance cars.

“Others can’t do that, so we’ve carved out a little niche for ourselves,” he tells WardsAuto at a preview of the ’14 SS here.

Automakers for years have used success on the racetrack to lure buyers into their showrooms, and the big Sunday race on the NASCAR circuit has been the largest platform.

Although NASCAR on television is averaging about 5.8 million households this year down from 8.5 million at its peak in 2005 according to The Nielsen Co., GM and rivals Ford and Toyota continue to invest millions of dollars in racing programs hoping championships will lead to sales titles.

“NASCAR has scale and reach,” Jim Campbell, GM vice president-performance cars and motorsports, recently told WardsAuto. “Seventy million fans, you can’t go wrong.”

Performance-car sales at Chevrolet are suring, which by winning this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Manufacturer’s title with the SS in its first season has grabbed 11 straight championships on the circuit. 

So far this year, sales of vehicles such as the Corvette and Camaro total 89,838 units for a commanding 35.3% of Luxury Sport and Middle Specialty sales, according to WardsAuto data. Overall, Chevrolet sales are up 6.5% through November.

“We are a performance-car producer,” Leone says.

GM hopes the rear-wheel-drive SS, Chevy’s first car with a longitudinal drivetrain since 1996, will further bolster those numbers. The car gets its nameplate, which is short for “Super Sport,” from the SS designation the automaker used to attach to high-performance variants of other models.

But over the years the SS designation became watered down, functioning as more of a trim level than any marked improvement in performance and leading GM North America President and chief gearhead Mark Reuss to say recently, “Let’s not talk about those days.”

The new SS does not follow that course. It features an LS3 6.2L V-8 engine rated at 415 hp and 415 lb.-ft. (563 Nm) of torque mated to 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, enabling 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in about five seconds and a top speed limited to 161 mph (258 km/h). That makes it one of the fastest sedans on the U.S. market.

Other highlights include an electronic power steering system optimized for aggressive driving, standard Brembo front brakes, forged aluminum 19-in. wheels wrapped in Bridgestone high-performance rubber and an aluminum hood and deck lid for a relatively sprightly curb weight of 3,975 lbs. (1,803 kg).

Leone says low production volumes make offering a manual transmission cost-prohibitive at this point. In fact, the only available options on the $44,470 car are a sunroof and a fullsize spare tire. Pressed about a true enthusiast transmission, he responds, “That’s the kind of thing we’d like to do in the future.”

The future of the SS, however, was put into question last week when GM announced it would cease manufacturing vehicles in Australia after 2017. The SS is built on a Zeta 2 platform in Adelaide alongside the Holden Commodore. GM says no decisions have been made regarding the SS beyond 2017.

If production were discontinued the SS would meet the same fate as the Pontiac G8, another high-powered, Holden-sourced sedan that arrived on U.S. shores with great fanfare in 2007 but died alongside the Pontiac brand in 2009 with GM’s bankruptcy.

jamend@wardsauto.com