On the eve of the introduction of the mid-engined C8 Corvette — arguably the most important automotive reveal of the decade — Power Automedia reviews the brave new world of America, sports cars, and General Motors.
We are in an era of enlightened tech people who look like hippies, talk like Gestapo, and create buzzwords like “disrupt.” Ironically, a company once considered an eroded pillar of the industrial Midwest, is about to drop a megaton bomb on the global sports car market, disrupting it forever. How did a 110-year-old company, derided by many, transform into a market disruptor?
Let’s go back to 2008
GM was bankrupt, on its knees, at the mercy of the newly-elected President Barack Obama and the dictates of hatchet man Steven Rattner. In exchange for a government bailout, the administration publicly extracted a pound of flesh by firing CEO Rick Wagoner, and sent Saturn, Hummer, Saab, and Pontiac to the scrap heap in the sky. They broke the company into two parts, the new General Motors Company and “Old GM,” leaving the carcass of the once-mighty corporation for all to pick over.
After several upper management shuffles, the first female candidate to run a major auto company, Mary Barra, was crowned CEO. Although she is credited for many good and bad moves the company made, current GM President Mark Reuss, and Dan Ammann (former GM President and now running Cruise Automation) have been pulling levers behind the scenes and are as influential as Barra in creating the GM we know today. The old saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste” was never more appropriate.
Most critically, GM signaled a few years ago, it would only compete in segments where it could lead or be second in sales and influence. One look at the company’s moves in the last 24 months confirms that notion. GM killed most of its car models, put five plants on death watch, jettisoned perennial loser Opel/Vauxhall, and shed its entire Australian manufacturing operations.
From there, it redirected its newly freed-up capital and gigantic technological resources, leveraging its yawning lead in EVs and autonomous cars with the goal of leading the electrification of the automobile. It even adopted a flowery mantra of “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.”
While we’re on the subject of flowery, one look at GM’s Facebook page and you’d swear they are regurgitating the old United Colors of Benetton ad campaign. GM has adopted the now federally-mandated, corporate ethos of shiny, happy people, all working together in a multi-hued, post-industrial world.
Add the first female Big-Three CEO to the company’s EV leadership, and suddenly old notions of hulking, cobbled-together, two-ton Delta 88s fade into the mist. Like Dorothy opening up the screen door after landing in Oz, going from black and white to color, we are not in old school Detroit anymore.
It will be good fun watching this “Portlandia” game plan mapped onto Corvette and its old school owner base. Odd Couple Felix Unger and Oscar Madison were identical twins compared to this pairing.
Before y’all fill up my inbox extolling the virtues of diversity, the global auto industry, and hemp underpants consider the following. Even though Corvette is an American icon that represents baseball, hot dogs, and ‘Murica, it will ironically be the poster child for a new-era GM. You would think a GM model best suited that pageantry would be the Bolt EV or the upcoming CUV replacement for Volt. No, the hoary old Corvette is GM’s latest change agent and here’s why.
For the last 66 years, Corvette has been the tip-of-the-spear of GM when it comes to performance, advanced materials, and technology du jour. Chevy’s sports car is the crown Prince of the General Motors dynasty and will not abdicate its position anytime soon.
Additionally, GM doesn’t want to wallow in profitless, entry-level sub-compact segments, bringing up the rear in sales. They want to dominate profitable segments, and if there was ever a market which GM owns, it’s high-end sports cars. It’s held market leader status for years with a consistent 20-35,000 in annual sales, easily eclipsing its competitors, most with multi-model lineups. They’ve put their money where their mouth is by investing almost a billion dollars in Bowling Green.
The problem with the status quo is the current Corvette’s aging demographics. Many Corvette owners are on their “last car” and younger folks (including the new-age Benetton STEM team pictured above) have no clue what Chevy’s fiberglass dreamboat is all about, nor do they care. In all fairness, there is a vibrant C5/C6 community inhabited by young LS fans who have embraced the Corvette (and Cadillac) wholeheartedly.
Still, the demographic for a new Corvette is about 62 years old and has increased in the last couple of years. What would be the best way to re-invent the Corvette? This quandary has kept GM up at night we can assure you that.
We can look to sociologists for the answer. One way to instigate change in a society is to drop a big bomb on the landscape and level the area. It destroys the status quo and can be rebuilt from a blank slate, with zero remnants of the past.
By euthanizing the C7 and replacing it with a completely different model, GM is applying the aforementioned scorched-earth strategy with an added twist, throwing in an automotive “killer app.” With the hidebound notion of previous Corvettes obliterated, GM will circle back and put the segment and existing players on their ear with a car that is a quantum leap above the C7.
It will leverage its formidable engineering and deliver it under $75,000, effectively rendering other established players obsolete. The battlefield will simultaneously take place in Modena, Stuttgart, and Tokyo, thousands of miles away from Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Like an asteroid hitting a prehistoric Earth, here’s why the C8 could be a dinosaur event for the existing supercar makers.
Ecosystem Surrounding Corvette
Coders and computer developers around the world would surrender a testicle to leverage a heavily established ecosystem like the one surrounding Corvette. Not only does Corvette have a huge reproduction-parts industry revolving around it, it has the biggest club membership not only here in the U.S., but globally as well.
Add a bevy of established performance-mod makers who can supply anything from sway bars to complete engines, suspension systems, and more. If you want to go fast in a Corvette, you can dip into a huge pool of goodies to make any generation run like a raped moose. The aforementioned ecosystem will go into warp drive to begin production of mods for the C8 as well. Porsche, Ferrari, et al have big followings, but nothing even close to Corvette.
GM Is Performance Leader And Has Huge Aftermarket Engine Support
From the sixth-gen Camaro to the C7 Corvette, to the new LT series of V8s, the C8 will benefit not only from GM’s world-class engineering but it’s stronghold on V8 performance as well.
Tadge Juechter, Kirk Bennion, Mark Reuss, and Harlan Charles showed the world’s automakers what GM was capable of with the C7, and we have unwavering confidence the C8 will be a quantum-leap forward performance-wise from the last iteration of Corvette. Also, there is no bigger, stronger, or robust aftermarket than the one surrounding GM V8s. The C8 will benefit from the Callaways, Hennessy’s, and Lingenfelter’s of the world as well.
A massaged LT1 variant, dubbed LT2 with a rumored 550hp, will debut with the C8. Throw in a new, Bowling Green-built, Cadillac Blackwing-derived, multi-cam V8 likely coming, and you’ve got a one-two punch of serious horsepower. Add rumors of electronic/hybrid propulsion as well, and GM will retain old-school petrolheads while blending in the latest technology attracting new buyers to the cross-flag brigade who might not have ever considered the brand.
Win on Sunday, Sell On Monday
Corvette Racing has been a world-beating, winning enterprise for years now — even with a technically obsolete platform to work with. With the addition of a proper mid-engine car, the gauntlet is now thrown down, and Corvette will continue to bedevil the stuffy, velvet-slipper driving-shoe Europeans.
Let’s not forget the C8 will become the defacto car to beat at autocross and club racing circuits across the country. The Corvette engineering gurus have applied all they’ve learned from their racing success to the last three generations of Corvettes and the C8 will leverage everything Team Corvette has learned during that period as well. Again, let’s not forget all the aftermarket companies ready to jump in with racing/performance mods as well.
In closing, the ascot-wearing Europeans will always have a following. Still, with a fresh off-the-drawing-board C8 Corvette sporting every trick GM can throw at it, the new car will be a game-changer, especially if it comes in with a $75,000 MSRP.
With all of GM’s resources behind it, not to mention the performance and horsepower ecosystems surrounding Corvette, it will be a hard sell as to why someone should spend three to five times as much for an Acura NSX or Ford GT, not to mention a Ferrari or Lamborghini.
Brace for impact.