Chevrolet Runs 2014 Corvette Up the Proverbial Flagpole -- And Gets Lots Of Salutes +VIDEO
By Martha Hindes
The Auto Channel
DETROIT - January 14, 2013: “The car, the car and the car,” was the answer from General Motors North America President Mark Reuss, through a broad grin. The question dealt with Chevrolet's efforts to win over the kind of auto aficionados who usually buy exotics like Ferrari or Lamborghini super cars and what it would take to get them to consider buying the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Corvette when it goes on sale next summer.
His response came Sunday evening, just minutes after the wraps were pulled off the all-new Stingray Corvette that survived GM's earlier bankruptcy and emerged as a sort of lightening rod for the company's rebirth. The location was in Detroit, home of company headquarters and the locale of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) that kicks off the 2013 U.S. auto show circuit on January 19.
Chevrolet had kept its baby as tightly under wraps as any auto introduction in memory. Only a few rare spy shots of the camouflaged car had managed to surface prior to the highly anticipated introduction. It wasn't until hours earlier at midday that some 500 GM workers who will build the vehicle in Bowling Green, Kentucky were finally allowed to see it. Some 600 international and local journalists were given the official preview in the evening at an old industrial plant near GM headquarters and just around the corner from the company's Detroit-Hamtramck “Poletown” Assembly Plant that builds Cadillacs.
Ed Mattson of Los Angeles was one of the few lucky Corvette owners who got into the tightly guarded introduction, because of his affiliation with the National Corvette Museum. Corvette collectors from throughout the country had been clamoring to attend but would have overwhelmed the venue by their sheer numbers, so Chevrolet didn't let them in.
Mattson, who owns both a C5 and C6 edition, was beaming with delight at the sight of the new 7th generation Vette. “It's fabulous,” he said. “We were so scared at what it might look like. We were afraid it would look like the Camaro,” he added, sharing a consensus of many Corvette owners who wanted to be sure Chevy hadn't messed up the look of their baby to make it more like the Corvette's junior pony car sibling. “But it looks like a Corvette,” he said, with noticeable relief. He will keep his Corvettes, but is anxious to be able to buy the new one.
Watch the Corvette Stingray unveiling
There was little doubt that Corvette owners like Mattson would be on board with the new Corvette look, trimmed down with the extensive use of aluminum and carbon fiber for weight reduction and performance improvement, along with a definite continental flavor. A question that kept surfacing was how to win a non-American audience for a vehicle that for decades has defined an American sports car. “The design is much more international,” said former company Vice Chairman Robert Lutz, on hand as a spectator for the unveiling of the auto that began its design life some six years earlier during his tenure.
Chevrolet has been undergoing a program to expand the brand globally and brought scores of international journalists to Detroit a year ago during the brand's 100th anniversary celebration. Reuss acknowledged that non-U.S. markets were in Chevrolet's crosshairs with the new, more internationally inspired model. Would China be one of them? The company will sell the car to “anyone who has the money and wants to buy a Corvette,” he responded, evading a direct answer.
“It's still a Corvette,” said New York area-based auto industry analyst, Joseph Phillippi, who has researched the American auto scene for decades as head of AutoTrends Consulting. But speculation is high that one of the primary offshore markets for the new Vette would be China, which now is the largest auto purchasing nation. “The Chinese love anything American,” said Phillippi. Among reasons GM might decide to take it there is that China, like the U.S., uses left-hand drive, eliminating the need to engineer a right-hand drive version as would be required for Japan or the United Kingdom. It could go to China as is.
But Phillippi added that American assessment of the new Corvette's driving and handling, with its V-8 engine's 450 horsepower and 450 pound feet of torque, seven-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, would have to wait until the buff magazines had put it through grueling track paces against such autos as the Dodge Viper, Porsche 911, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford's Shelby Mustang. The new Corvette, that in previous generations has been dominating racing circuits, should go from zero to 60 in less than 4 seconds.
That kind of gearhead review could be several months down the road. Reuss said that a small fleet of Vettes will be built for internal testing and driven for about half a million miles by GM people before such things things as tire rating can be determined that is used as the basis of projected mileage and top speeds. The Corvette will not be speed limited with a governor, however. Tires for the new Corvette will be built by Michelin.
David E. Cole, chairman and co-founder of AutoHarvest, a Michigan-based organization involved in auto industry research, collaboration and promotion said that the new Corvette, with its innovative materials and construction was superior in design, content and manufacture to many of the so-called exotics that get so much more media attention. It would get the same attention if it sported a super car's auto badging, “if one of those companies could even afford to put that kind of technology into their vehicles.” And it would cost much more than a Corvette, maybe about $300,000.
Despite the development cost of the new Corvette, Reuss earlier had said the company would make a profit on every one it sold. Current generation Corvette sales are about 14,000 annually with base pricing in the $50,000 range, and speculation is that the company could double that sales number with the new model.
Adding Stingray to the name also denotes this vehicle is something extra special, according to GM officials. Ed Welburn, GM's Vice President of Global Design, said there wasn't any particular check list that would determine it should be called a Stingray. He said he just knew. “It's an emotional thing,” he said, adding that the design as it was evolving made it feel the name was just right. Only twice in the past was Stingray added to a Corvette, the first a racing version from the 1950s and the second a production model built until 1967.
Reuss added his take on the Stingray name. “This represents the best we could do,” he said.
As for the Stingray heritage. Collector Mattson said he is delighted. “We had just been talking that it was about time they brought the name back,” he said. “Then they announced it.”
Copyright 2013 Martha Hindes