While attending the launch event for the 2014 Corvette Stingray last month, I was struck by a thought that just wouldn’t leave my head. Were GM executives being honest when they said that they only applied the Stingray name to the car at the eleventh hour, only after it was clear that the car raised the bar in terms of design and performance? Could there be another reason that it’s no longer just a “Corvette,” but now a “Corvette Stingray” or even just “Stingray?” Well, here’s my crazy idea. Grab your tinfoil hat.
During the event, I can’t recall hearing the words “Chevrolet” or “Chevy” a single time. I just , and other than the boilerplate footer, there are just two references to the Corvette’s make – the opening sentence says, “Chevrolet is redefining modern performance with today’s debut of the all-new Corvette Stingray,” and at about the halfway point, the release says, “The Corvette Stingray delivers an advanced infotainment system, featuring Chevrolet MyLink and high-definition radio…”
So this is Chevy’s halo car, that seems to be ashamed of its association with the purveyor of the Spark and Malibu? In 4,463 words of the press release about probably the most exciting Corvette in history, and “Chevrolet” appears just five times (three of which are in the final paragraph to describe the Chevrolet brand).
So what’s going on here? My guess is that this is just the first step in pulling Corvette away from Chevrolet and making it a standalone brand, similar to the SRT Viper. Heck, it could even be something like the Prius, Prius C, or Prius V (in terms of branding, certainly not in terms of performance or desirability).
Why Create a Corvette Brand?
1. Corvette doesn’t fit in with Chevrolet, other than its traditional association. Let’s assume for a moment that I may be right. What are the benefits of surgically removing Chevrolet from Corvette? For one, the Corvette doesn’t really fit into what the Chevrolet brand is at all. The SS Performance sedan will likely have a price in the $40,000s, and the Suburban, Tahoe, and pickups can be hella expensive, but Chevy’s other cars are generally a value play. They deliver maximum bang for the buck; Chevy is not a performance brand, it’s a value brand. Walking around the global Chevrolet (not for sale in the U.S.) offerings on display at last month’s NAIAS emphasized that point very well. I continue with the Spark-Corvette juxtaposition, but the Sail-Corvette is even more dramatic.
2. Corvette already is a brand. There are probably more people in the world, particularly outside of North America, who have heard of the Corvette but not Chevrolet. Even if they have heard of Chevrolet, the Chevrolets sold outside of North America are even more of a value play than those sold in North America. Chevrolets are positioned below Opel/Vauxhall in Europe, for Pete’s sake.
3. A Corvette lineup would pad GM’s margins. Though precise profitability data per model is held close to the vest, and depends on whether the tooling for a particular model has already been amortized over a long run (2006-2013 Impalas were practically free to make at the end of their run. Not really.) it’s well-known that full-size SUVs can pull in upwards of $10,000 per unit of profit. There’s a reason that GM pulled ahead the launch of its 2007 model-year full-size SUVs in 2006: they brought much-needed cash to the cash-starved company. You can bet that a Cruze doesn’t make nearly as much money, either percentage-wise or in dollar terms, as a Suburban or Corvette does.
What Would a Corvette Brand Look Like?
Assuming Corvette divorces Chevrolet, what would that mean for America’s longest-tenured sports car? Probably a few things. First, there’s pleny of room above and below the traditional Corvette formula (front/mid engine, V8 powered, rear wheel drive, composite body panel, two seater, coupe and convertible). Stingray doesn’t necessarily mean that the C7 is anything special (after all, just how special was a 1976 Corvette Stingray, with its 180-horsepower or 210-horsepower 350 V8 under the hood, coupled with an eight year old design that was past its sell-by date?)
It just means that there is an opening for a cheaper Corvette (that probably doesn’t have a V8 under its hood, but a nice power-t0-weight ratio; think Pontiac Solstice with an aluminum frame, improved packaging, and a V6 under its hood). It means that there could be a more expensive Corvette. Not just $100,000+ like the ZR1, but a mid-engine Audi R8 competitor that GM engineers have dreamed of building since the 1970s but never actually did. Though even the C6 ZR1 puts up numbers in line with what the R8 is capable of, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Having spent some time driving an R8 (and loving every minute of it) and every recent Corvette model but the Z06, I can tell you that the Corvette is a special car, but the R8 plays in another league entirely. Again, it’s not just the numbers, but the intangibles as well. An Alcantara headliner, gated shifter, rear-mid engine layout, all wheel drive…these features individually and together make driving an R8 something very special.
With sports cars slotted above and below the Corvette Stingray, what about a Corvette sedan next? I’m thinking something like a BMW ALPINA B7, but better looking and faster. Or maybe an M5 fighter. Removing Corvette from Chevrolet would also open the possibility of eliminating the “for the money” caveat that Chevrolets, including the Corvette, are saddled with, but knowing that it’s still GM who would be selling a Corvette lineup, it stands to reason that any model in the lineup would have a price advantage versus its closest competitors.
Why Might It Be Stupid To Do This?
1. The Corvette is Chevrolet’s halo car. Some people believe that having a Corvette in the showroom draws gawkers who will then be convinced to part with their money not for a Corvette, but for a Cruze or Malibu – or even a Camaro. Plenty of folks question the economic benefit of developing halo cars in the first place. Yet, I could see Camaro sales suffering from a lack of Corvettes sharing a showroom.
2. It will piss of traditionalists. Let’s face it; most of the Corvette’s buyers are, ahem, traditionalists. (And I say this from a position of love; I came really, really close to buying a new Corvette in 2007/2008 until my left brain took over and I bought a Cadillac CTS instead so I’d have five seats and four doors). How would current Corvette owners feel about their beloved sports car no longer being a Chevrolet? Worse, how would they react to a twin turbo V6 in a smaller, lighter Corvette ___ (whatever its name)?
By no means do I think it’s certain that Corvette will become its own brand, and I have no inside information. But I am sometimes good at reading between the lines, and I suspect that by emphasizing the Stingray name, GM is at least hedging its bets and that it’s a strong possibility that the Corvette name could be applied to more than the current formula. That formula has been in place almost since the car’s 1953 debut, so maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit. I guess we’ll find out in a few years if my hunch is right.