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The 2014 Corvette Stingray ‘is the first car that was designed, start to finish, since our bankruptcy,’ says GM CEO Dan Akerson. (General Motors)
The 2014 Corvette Stingray ‘is the first car that was designed, start to finish, since our bankruptcy,’ says GM CEO Dan Akerson. (General Motors)

Brand Strategy

Great expectations for GM’s new halo car Add to ...

If you were in Scottsdale, Ariz., earlier this month, you might have popped into the always entertaining Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale collector car auction to witness NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick drop a cool million on the first production 2014 Corvette Stingray. Delivery date: some time in late summer.

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Hendrick ponied up $1.1-million (U.S.) and, when he takes delivery of the first seventh-generation ’Vette, the car will have a vehicle identification number ending in 0001. Way cool. At least Hendrick will get to customize his new ride – from the colour of the interior and exterior, to a choice of performance package and other options.

So a good buy, a wise investment, a future collectible that will appreciate in value over time? If you ask Ed Welburn, GM vice-president of design, the answer is yes, of course. The 2014 is a collectible in the making.

“The new Stingray features a modern, dramatic design that will inspire a new generation of Corvette enthusiasts,” says Welburn, noting the design takes its cues from the Corvette C6.R race car and the name is taken from the legendary 1963 Sting Ray.

Actually, the ’Vette – Stingray, as GM officials insist on calling it in its latest C7 form – is more than a car, more than the continuation of a historical line of sports car. It’s a statement about what the “new” General Motors has become in the last 3-1/2 years, and it points to a hoped-for future at the big auto maker.

“It’s a statement about American ingenuity,” said Dan Akerson, GM chief executive officer, at the car’s unveiling at a private event on the eve of the Detroit auto show. “It’s a statement about our technology and, quite frankly, our risk-taking. This is the first car that was designed, start to finish, since our bankruptcy (in 2009).”

So this ’Vette is a “halo car.” If it’s well received, if it casts a positive light right across GM all around the globe, and in particular its critically important Chevrolet brand, then the 2014 Stingray will have done its job.

Don’t underestimate how important this car is. Chevrolet accounted for 71 per cent of the company’s U.S. sales in 2012 and Chevy sold more than four million cars globally last year, notes Reuters. It’s a risk every time GM reinvents the ’Vette – this is just the seventh time it’s been done in the car’s 60-year history – and, at this particular moment, the risks are greater than ever.

Akerson, for his part, calls the C7 “a balanced risk.” Mark Reuss, president of GM’s North American operation and himself a true “car guy,” admitted that having so many ’Vette owners out there to judge GM’s efforts, is both a blessing and curse. A blessing in that there’s a natural following of devoted owners. A curse in that such a natural following can only be opinionated and defensive when it comes to the ’Vette – what it’s been through the decades and what it should be in the coming decades.

“America’s sports car” was born in the days of GM’s famous Motorama car shows of the 1950s. Since becoming a real production car, GM has sold more than 1.5 million ’Vettes, an astounding number for a super sports car aimed at the Ferraris and Porsches and Lamborghinis of the world – from its Michelin tires, to its Brembo brakes and Bilstein shocks.

“It’s the affordable sports car,” says Reuss, arguing that while this latest Stingray can go head-to-head on the track with the best, fastest cars in the world, the sticker price of the 2014 will not be priced like an exotic. In fact, everyone at GM says the sticker will be about the same as the current car’s – $60,600 to start in Canada for the coupe.

Reuss wouldn’t talk specifically about sales numbers, but we know this: Corvette sales peaked at 42,571 in 1977 and dwindled to 14,132 last year. He’s expecting this latest ’Vette to reclaim past glories in terms of sales. And in doing so, the 2014 Stingray will give Chevy’s image a big boost. By extension, it should do the same for GM.

“Like the ’63 Sting Ray, the best Corvettes embodied performance leadership, delivering cutting-edge technologies, breathtaking design and awe-inspiring driving experiences,” says Reuss. “The all-new Corvette goes farther than ever, thanks to today’s advancements in design, technology and engineering.”

Engineering? Take the engine. The ’14 Stingray will be the most powerful standard ’Vette, says Reuss. GM isn’t yet sharing exact numbers, but the 6.2-litre V-8 will have an estimated 450 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque. You’ll be able to rocket from 0-100 km/h in less than four seconds and pull more than 1 G in the corners. It will also be the most fuel-efficient Corvette.

This is not some warmed-over update, either. Reuss is quick to point out that the new Stingray shares just two parts with the previous-generation car. This C7 has an all-new frame structure and chassis, a new powertrain and supporting technologies. Of course, the design inside and out is new, too.

What stands out most, however, is the use of once-exotic lightweight materials. That means there’s a carbon fibre hood, composite fenders, doors and rear quarter panels and carbon-nano composite underbody panels. A new aluminum frame helps to shift weight rearward. The result is 50/50 weight balance, says GM. If you really want to lighten up, the roof panel is removable. Meanwhile, the interior uses carbon fibre, aluminum and hand-wrapped leather materials. Both seat choices are based on a lightweight magnesium frame.

As for the design, the lighting stands out most – the high-intensity discharge and light-emitting diode type. The exterior is not as much of a stretch as some might have wanted, but that’s the price of having a history. The C7 is recognizable as a ’Vette, just sleeker and modernized. Some will love it, others will whine and complain and say that GM either didn’t go far enough in advancing the design, or that GM went too far, or …

There’s no pleasing everyone in this instance.

As Welburn admits, while the Stingray “breaks from tradition, it remains instantly recognizable as a Corvette the world over.” Translation: the new design is something of a compromise, a tip of the hat to past ’Vettes.

At least the performance can be expected to win hearts without any real dissent. The all-new 6.2-litre V-8 has all the latest advancements, though it’s still a pushrod or overhead valve design and the basics here are shared with GM’s upcoming new pickups. But let’s not sneeze at direct injection, Active Fuel Management, continuously variable valve timing and an advanced combustion system. This is modern stuff and all good.

The racy types, who are willing to drop money on improved ride and handling, can get a track-capable Z51 Performance Package: electronic limited-slip differential, dry-sump oiling system, integral brake, differential and transmission cooling and a unique aero package aimed at improving high-speed stability.

Hendrick and other owners will be able to dial up their own tastes in how the car responds, too – using a five-position Drive Mode Selector to tailor 12 vehicle attributes. The new seven-speed manual transmission has something called Active Rev Matching. It anticipates gear selections and matches engine speed. The result should be smooth, well-matched shifts.

In a nutshell, Tadge Juechter, the ’Vette chief engineer, told trade journal Automotive News, “We set out to redefine modern performance. We scanned the world for technology. But we didn’t make changes just to be different. It had to enhance the driving experience.”

The result, he added in Detroit, is that this C7 “delivers the fastest acceleration, the most cornering grip, the most track capability, the best braking performance and what we expect to be the best fuel economy ever for a standard Corvette.”

So we know what the engineers and the designers set out to do. Akerson, the CEO, says the C7 speaks to the “new” GM. When I drive it later this year, I’ll tell you what that actually means from the seat of the pants. I’m expecting to be not just impressed, but amazed and enthralled. Such is the height of expectations here.

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