General Motors’ High Performance Vehicle Operations division was responsible for the development of some great automobiles, including the current Camaro SS, the Cadillac CTS-V series and the ill-fated Saturn Redline and Pontiac GXP models. The division was disbanded in February of 2009, a victim of GM’s bankruptcy. Their engineers were scattered to the four corners of the GM globe, but let’s face facts: almost every automotive engineer is a car guy at heart, and car guys want to build faster, better handling cars. Two months ago, GM announced that a Performance Vehicles and Motorsports Division was forming, and SEMA was the first opportunity for the fledgling division to show their wares.
Eight weeks isn’t a lot of time to develop performance and handling enhancements for current vehicles, so most of the cars on display at SEMA (a pair of Camaro SS’ and Z-Spec versions of the Chevy Cruze, Volt and Spark) had body kits and other minor tweaks, but no serious horsepower or handling upgrades. That’s not to say that the new division is content to sell splitters and spoilers; GM knows that U.S. customers want performance vehicles, so I’m relatively confident the new Performance Vehicles Division will deliver what customers want.
What will the future look like for high performance cars from GM? It’s hard to say, but GM engineers are well aware of the looming CAFE standards, and you won’t get to a fleet-wide average of 39 MPG for cars if you focus only on building big V8s. If I were a betting man, I’d expect to see smaller displacement, turbocharged motors and perhaps even some performance oriented hybrids. Chevy’s got a lot of development capital tied up in the Volt, so even a high performance extended range electric vehicle isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
One thing is perfectly clear: the GM of old is dead, and I say long live the new GM. They’re building some great cars and trucks, and they’re listening to what American buyers want. This may be the pinnacle of muscle car and V8 sports car evolution, but I’m fairly confident that high performance cars are a long way from getting last rites.