As we continue to reap the harvest of the second golden era of automotive performance, some interesting conundrums have begun to pop up – not only for consumers, but for the industry as well. Not long ago, it was easy to see the benefits provided by the most exclusive, purpose-built hardware an automaker had on offer, but as massive amounts of horsepower become more readily available by the day, those lines of distinction are beginning to blur.
Less than a decade ago, a car that could knock out a low 12-second quarter mile would have been considered a truly formidable performer (and been priced accordingly), but now a garden-variety Camaro SS costing well under $40K will get you there right off the dealer lot. Although this is great news for enthusiasts, it poses something of a problem for companies that are in the business of marketing and selling high-end sports cars.
While straight-line speed is only one piece of a much larger equation, it remains one of the easiest performance metrics to understand and contextualize, so when the less expensive models begin to venture up market in terms of their capability, the inherent value provided by the more costly – and often less practical – models becomes difficult to quantify.
The problem only gets worse when those cheaper models learn to turn and stop as well, and the sixth generation Camaro has proven itself to be capable enough to run alongside the Corvette in virtually any performance context.
The ZL1 1LE’s recent 7:16.04 lap time around the Green Hell is likely the fastest Nurburgring lap time ever recorded by any GM production car, and considering the ZL1 1LE’s price tag of $69,995 is within five grand of a bare-bones C7 Grand Sport, perhaps the biggest threat to the Corvette comes from within Chevrolet itself.
As a result, some well-established strategies may need to be altered in order to adapt to the times, but which ones are due for an overhaul still remains a mystery. Here are five questions about the future of GM performance that we’re anxiously awaiting the answers to.
Is General Motors creating a performance focused sub-brand?
Recently there’s been speculation about GM spinning off its performance-tuned cars like the Corvette, Camaro and V-Series Cadillacs into a separate entity, a la Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division or Fiat-Chrysler’s SRT branded vehicles. Though this might seem like a simple marketing exercise that doesn’t amount to much more than a common badge tying disparate models together, it does present some interesting options for GM in terms of development flexibility, including a performance-tuned SUV with some Corvette lineage.
That might be sacrilege to some, but when you consider the fact that Porsche’s Cayenne SUV and Macan crossover vastly outsell all iterations of the 911 and Cayman while returning huge profits margins in the process, the business case starts to make more sense. It’s also why companies like Lamborghini and Aston Martin are currently in the midst of developing their own high-riding performance models.
Additionally, it would give the excellent Cadillac ATS-V and CTS-V models a greater presence within GM’s product portfolio. Cadillac is currently trying to court performance enthusiasts, hip hop moguls, and retirement home residents all in the same showroom.
This approach is bound to lead to confusion, particularly for the kind of buyer that says, “Give me the best model you’ve got,” and expects a modern-day Coupe De Ville but finds themselves behind the wheel of a Mercedes-AMG E63 S fighter instead. Putting these performance models under one badge that makes their sport tuning clear from the outset would help alleviate the issue by more clearly differentiating these models from the standard offerings.
Can Chevrolet maintain the sales numbers of the C7 with a mid-engined design?
The Corvette’s production numbers have been strong since the C7 debuted in 2014, with 2016 topping out at more than 40,000 units. That more than double what the C6’s figures were for the four years prior to the latest generation’s debut, though it’s essentially in line with traditional sales figures for the Corvette dating back to the debut of the C5 in 1998 when you consider that more than half of the C6’s time on sale was during one of the worst economic recessions in history.
In any case, 30,000-40,000 units a year seems to be the going rate for Corvette production, but some folks wonder if that’s feasible with a mid-engined replacement. Between the development costs and the expense of significantly upgrading the factory to produce such dramatically different vehicle than the C7, it’s safe to assume that General Motors will want to recoup some of those expenses, so a price increase for this dramatic shift in design seems probable.
Practicality also plays a factor here, as most mid-engined vehicles have virtually no usable cargo space, and the ingress and egress of the mid-engine vehicles is often significantly more cumbersome than that of front-engined cars like the current Corvette, which can be an issue for older buyers.
It’s hard to predict how this will shake out, but when you consider how sacred the front-engine, rear wheel drive configuration is to many Corvette fanatics, as well as the aforementioned accessibility concerns from both a practical and financial standpoint, it seems like this model would likely sell in smaller numbers than the C7.
So if it’s more exclusive, how will GM maintain its foothold in the performance segment?
With the recent demise of the Dodge Viper, the Corvette now sits at the top of the American sports car food chain essentially uncontested. After decades of fighting to maintain its market share, it seems unlikely the Chevrolet would forfeit this territory simply out of a desire to change things up, so it stands to reason that a mid-engined C8 might be produced alongside other models.
The most likely scenario seems to be concurrent production of the C7 alongside this mid-engined model. Although it’s a seemingly odd tactic to produce what amounts to two different generations of Corvette at the same time, it’s worth noting that if the C8 were to debut for the 2019 model year, the C7 would only be six years old at that point.
That seems a bit premature to put the car out to pasture, especially when sales of the C7 are currently stronger than ever and a new ZR1-like track-tuned model is set to officially debut any day now.
Could the mid-engined car end up being a new Cadillac instead of a Corvette?
This theory isn’t as outlandish as it might initially appear. In a response to a Detroit Bureau piece about Cadillac’s future product plans that was published last year, Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen decided to clarify a few things for the site’s readers in no uncertain terms when he jumped into the comments section to offer some information about the company’s future product plans.
Preceding assertions about new crossovers and luxury sedans for various segments was the following: “We ARE planning a Cadillac flagship which will NOT be a 4 door sedan,” adding that “these programs are secure and development work is well underway, with very substantial costs already committed.”
Adding credence to the notion that this might be the mid-engined prototype that’s been seen testing in various locales recently is the fact that, back in 2014, Nysschen said that he envisioned a model that would go toe to toe with the likes of the Porsche 911, Mercedes-AMG GT, and Audi R8 in Cadillac’s future after 2020.
At the time he said that bringing diesel powertrains to market was a top priority for the company, but with Volkswagen’s diesel scandal rocking the industry just 11 months later, it’s not too far-fetched to think that those plans may have been shelved in favor of development efforts that would generate better publicity considering the fact that diesel has become a bad word in the industry.
Are hybrid powertrains on the way?
There’s a vocal contingent of Corvette fanatics who’re very resistant to change – even the transition from circular taillights to the angular shape used on the C7 caused a small furor. Well, if those folks didn’t have enough rustling their jimmies with the very real prospect of a mid-engined Corvette on the horizon, they’re going to need to sit down for this one: Hybrid Corvettes are a near-certainty in the not-too-distant future.
But don’t take our word for it – ask Bob Lutz, the former head of product development for General Motors who told Detroit News last year that an optional hybrid drivetrain for the C8 is a very real possibility. Lutz speculated that the development program’s long lead time foreshadows an electric version “with 10 to 15-mile plug-in electric capability,” adding that it “would be enough to give it a 50 mpg city label, and the electric motors at the front would enable limited AWD capability.”
Considering the ever-increasing CAFÉ and EPA standards that GM and other automakers need to be able to meet in the near future, it’s not really a matter of “if” but “when” the Corvette and other GM performance vehicles will see hybrid powertrains and other electrification strategies.
Any way you slice it, big things are in store for General Motors’ performance vehicles over the next few years, and watching how it all unfolds is really just part of the fun. What say you? Let us know in the comments section below.