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News in the Chicago Tribune

Chevy picks up pace of SSR debut events

Published April 3, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Chevrolet SSR roadster pickup, first shown as a concept at the Detroit Auto Show in 2000, becomes reality this summer as an '03 model.

But only 3,500 will be built for the '03 model year, and of those, 25 have been designated Signature Series models that are bound for museums or charity auctions and not available to off-the-street traffic.

"It's safe to say first-year output is sold out," said Bob Walczyk, SSR marketing manager.

"We'll produce 3,500 between now and November before switching to '04 output. Starting with the '04 model year, we'll build up to 15,000 annually. But output will always be limited to ensure they'll always be desired as collectibles," he said.

"Not all dealers [4,100 nationwide] will see an '03 model, but all will have at least one by the end of the '04 model year," he said.

We chatted with Walczyk at the preview here of the SSR pace car chosen for this year's Indy 500.

Because Walczyk was some distance away on the other side of the dinner table, we felt it safe to ask: "And who's the dummy who decided to price the SSR at $41,995?"

"We had a lot of help from senior management in coming up with that price," he said with a broad smile.

Bed features: Not only is a roadster truck novel, but SSR also offers a power retractable hardtop. The front portion slips inside the rear portion and then both slip vertically into a compartment directly behind the seats that's only about 14 inches wide.

The retractable top takes up so little space you still have a good size (3-foot, 5-inch by 4-foot 2-inch) cargo bed. The bed has a hardtop cover, which opens manually. You can slip at least two sets of golf clubs or several bags of groceries inside, but you have to remove the hard cover and store it in your garage to carry tall items such as mountain bikes. (Grooves in the bed are designed to secure bike racks.)

Considering the SSR starts at $41,995, don't expect the cargo bed to be used for real heavy-duty or dirty hauling, such as gravel or sod.

Stoking demand: The problem with a novel vehicle such as the SSR is the uniqueness. This is why Chrysler has offered so many variants of the PT Cruiser since it was first introduced as a 2001 model.

And what about the SSR?

"The challenge is to keep it hot by keep coming out with something to make it hot and not let it go stale. We have other things planned in SSR's lifecycle, but we can't talk about them," said Ed Ivey, program engineering director for the SSR.

"One thing we will do, however, is always cap production volume at 15,000 units annually, although we had considered lower volume than that originally," he said.

"When the Pontiac Fiero first came out, we just kept on producing them until every one who wanted one had one, and then when everyone had one, well . . . " Ivey said.

Power plans: When it comes to derivatives, perhaps the future will bring the SSR something other than the 5.3-liter, 290-horsepower V-8? It's the same V-8 in the extended-length TrailBlazer; SSR is built off the same platform as the regular-length TrailBlazer.

"We'll consider more powerplants down the road," Ivey said. "The concept came out in 2000 and in the short time we had between concept and production we had to go with the engine offered in the TrailBlazer. But we're also hoping for some even better horsepower numbers in the future."

And a manual transmission, maybe, because it only offers a 4-speed automatic now?

"We don't have a manual for the 5.3-liter V-8 anywhere in the corporation as of now," he said.
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