It’s been called “America’s sports car,” but in an era when import brands account for more than half of the vehicles sold in the U.S. – and the majority of luxury models -- that isn’t necessarily a plus as General Motors gets ready to roll an all-new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray into dealer showrooms.
The introduction of the seventh-generation model marks the 60th anniversary of the Corvette which first appeared in concept form at GM’s once popular Motorama, a traveling, one-maker car show. What company insiders and fans alike refer to as the C7 almost didn’t make it to market, nearly falling victim to GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.
Ironically, that may have been the best thing to happen, asserts Tadge Juechter, the Corvette’s chief engineer, who says it wound up giving GM “additional time to get things right,” improving both the design and the dynamics of a vehicle that will have to go up against some of the most fearsome competitors in the auto industry, notably including the Porsche 911 and the new Jaguar F-Type.
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In one sense, Chevy simply has to hold its own to maintain a sales lead in the sports car segment. But volume alone isn’t enough to call the C7 a success. A fully loaded ‘Vette will set a buyer back about $72,000, barely half as much as a comparably equipped 911, and $30,000 less than Porsche’s less formidable new Cayman model.
That’s something GM is determined to change, said Chris Perry, the general marketing manager for Chevrolet.
“We want to maintain our relationship with Corvette loyalists, but we have to go after a new generation of buyers,” he said. That’s all the more important if the new Stingray is to deliver on its original purpose, to put a halo around the overall Chevrolet brand.
Ironically, said analyst Peterson, the latest products emerging from the bowtie brand’s design and engineering studios could help put a halo around the Corvette.
The new sports car is impressive. The 2014 Corvette’s all-new 6.2-liter V-8 makes as much as 460 horsepower, enough to launch it from 0 to 60 in just 3.8 seconds. It actually produces more power per pound of mass than the latest-generation Porsche 911 – which is almost identical in size and weight.
The Chevy 2-seater makes extensive use of not only lightweight aluminum but even more advanced carbon fiber, a super-light, ultra-strong – but extremely expensive – material traditional limited to only the most exotic European sports cars.
And while there have been a few grumbles about various design detail, the new ‘Vette has generally received glowing reviews normally reserved for its import competitors.
“The car feels completely different” from Corvettes of the past, proclaimed AutoWeek magazine, which dubs the 2014 Stingray “a new archetype.” Meanwhile, Car & Driver magazine gives it, “A+ for effort, straight As for execution.”
Despite such accolades, even Corvette Product Marketing Manager Harlan Charles is reluctant to declare victory. “It’s going to take work to reach people who’ve never been in a Corvette before,” he admits, noting that Chevy will be staging a series of drives across the country – with an emphasis on import-oriented markets like New York, Miami and Southern California. The goal will be reaching those “influencers” who might normally buy vehicles like a 911 but who could be motivated to consider something different, and whose choice would impact family, friends and co-workers.
“The new car checks all the boxes and should compete against the imports,” says analyst Peterson, if Chevy gets the marketing right.
And, in a curious flip-flop, the more mainstream products from GM’s largest brand could this time give a boost to Corvette. Influential Consumer Reports magazine recently named the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Impala the best mainstream sedan on the market, a blow to arch-rival Toyota’s new Impala. Chevy, meanwhile, was the only mainstream brand in the top five on the closely watched J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, with GM as a whole the number one manufacturer. Chevy and GM have fared equally well in other recent surveys.
For his part, Chevrolet General Manager Perry concedes “it will take time” to win over import sports car loyalists but he’s confident that the new Corvette has the best chance to deliver on its promise in the market since the original ‘Vette screeched into showrooms six decades ago.