Or, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Blame The Second-Hand Market".
Good evening, Opponauts. I saw the Chevrolet SS on the cover of the "What Good Car Doesn't Sell" or some such thinkpiece, and I must come to offer a few musings on the business case of future cult classics. Frequently, I find myself perusing the threads of concepts and low volume cars - or reading up on the Jalopnik COTY, the 1992 Mazda Miata - and I find the comment about the void in the market that I find so fascinating. It comes in so many delicious flavors:
- "Why doesn't Folvoissan Mitsubaru General Motor Werke build a cheap, two seat, RWD, manual sports car like they used to?"
- "Why on earth doesn't anyone offer a brown, diesel, manual wagon like they used to?"
- "The Viper should cost $45,000."
- "How does Tavarish find all that junk?"
The answer is simple - and the business case for the Chevrolet SS is, more or less, the perfect example. Let's start with some basic premises. First: the Chevrolet SS doesn't sell well. They sold 2,479 in 2014 - to put that in perspective, Cadillac sold 2,652 CTS' in December alone. Bentley moves more cars in the US - by about 500 - than Chevrolet moves the ~$50k SS.
The second assumption I'll make is that you are not all that different from me. I'm spending my Friday night looking up sales statistics of fast cars, drinking beer, and eating pancakes. Moreover, I can tell you the difference between an S14 (the Japanese chassis) and an S14 (the Bavarian motor), I know the backstory on the VW Phaeton, I've swapped a motor or two, and I find myself most at peace on the race track.
Back to our story - why doesn't the Chevrolet SS move a lot of units? Is it the car?
Well - it's a 415hp 4-door manual sleeper that's got some serious racing pedigree half a world away and comes with magnetic ride. Decent recipe. I've ridden in one - and will try to drive one this weekend because I do love the thing. It's the perfect ride for folks who enjoy flying 20 mph over and completely under the radar. It isn't the car.
Is it the marketing? Well, possibly, but you and I know what this car is. We're the intended market for it - enthusiasts. The folks who know it exists are exactly the intended market. These are the kinds of people who talk to CTS-V wagon owners at gas stations and think the Evora makes for a half-decent family car.
The problem, and this comes right back to the economics, is that the market is swimming with competitors. Allow me to show you the chief competitor of the Chevrolet SS:
Incidentally, this is the same competitor for the brown diesel wagon, the Toybaru twins, and that damned 240SX replacement that we're probably never going to get.
The problem that the Chevrolet SS has is that enthusiasts are terrible buyers for new cars.
They buy used.
Here's what you can get for about $50k:
Anything on that list sound interesting?
That's the problem - and manufacturers know that.
My friends, automakers know that they won't be selling you a car any time soon. Sure, you'll buy one used, and for a depreciation discount, but you're not haggling with dealers and getting that undercoating. And from their standpoint, the engineering that goes into making these, the NHTSA approval, lawyering, accounting, HR, and marketing that goes into each Toybaru you don't want to buy new because you can get a perfectly decent C6 for the price of a loaded Scion drives the price up past where it makes sense to sell to you, the loving enthusiast that eats and breathes that particular manufacturer's press releases.
We're a small breed, you and I. For everyone that can tell you that the E92 is the one with 2 doors and the E90 is the one with 4, there are are a hundred people who love the Camry because it has Bluetooth and keeps them delightfully grounded to the ground. For every SS that Chevrolet sold in December, Toyota sold 339 Camrys.
Anyway, every time you wonder why manufacturers don't make cars you want to buy for the price that fits your budget, or why the manual transmission doesn't come with the big motor, or why they're killing the last ounce of soul they have on the assembly line, it's because GM, for all their billions in revenue, cannot compete with Craigslist.