We recently reported that Peter DeLorenzo at Autoextremist.com was saying that a mid-engined C7 Corvette for 2010 is a virtual certainty, with final approval slated for the first week in January. DeLorenzo backed up his claims with a lot of facts, and based his statements on conversations he said he’d had recently with top-level GM executives.

Now AutoObserver.com, an Edmunds website (you know, the people that make used car price guides) has chimed in with the inevitable dissenting opinion. Edmunds, er, AutoObserver, says the next Corvette is a 2013 model, at the earliest, and that no decisions have been made about the car, as yet. In support of its position, it quotes a “forecasting firm” and one of its own company CEO, who has the following insight to offer: “Corvettes should be front engine and Porsche should not be a sport utility. Some things just shouldn’t change, like Classic Coke.”

How’s that for nailing down your credibility? Corvette shouldn’t be mid-engine and Porsche shouldn’t build an SUV. Of course, Porsche does build an SUV, not entering its second generation. Perhaps Edmunds didn’t notice the first generation Cayenne.

Who to believe?

There is absolutely no reason to believe Edmunds’ AutoObserver is correct and a plethora of reasons not to.

First, Edmunds’ claim that the next Corvette is scheduled no sooner than 2013 puts it on a timetable far later than most previous reports. In fact, most reports have pegged the C7 as due in 2010, just as DeLorenzo and AutoExtremist reported.

Second, Chevrolet clearly needs to replace the C6 with something notably different. The C6 was a mistake caused by the need to amortize the costs of the Cadillac XLR over more units than that vehicle alone could be expected to sell. By creating a “new” Corvette and using the same platform for the XLR, the majority of the platform development costs could be charged off to the Corvette, rather than the Cadillac. 

But C6 sales have softened, and are getting softer. Dealers are discounting even the Z06. The anticipated “Blue Devil” or “SS” Corvette due next year will add some excitement to the line-up, but with an anticipated price of at least $100,000, it won’t add much in sales. 

The reality is that C6 Corvette styling is not much different than C5 styling, which means that the current car has lines established in 1997. Functionally, the styling of the current Corvette is a decade old. Though everyone agrees the C6 is a better car than the C5, it is not a very different car. It is certainly not a cutting edge design, anymore.

In this regard, there is one other point which DeLorenzo’s article does not mention: the Camaro.

The forthcoming Camaro will inevitably undercut C6 sales, if it doesn’t pull the rug right out from under them. The Camaro has independent rear suspension and essentially the same drivetrain as the Corvette, plus it is less expensive and the design is much fresher. A new Corvette which is merely an updated C6 will not change the fundamental tension between the new Camaro and the Corvette: they will both be playing to the same market, with the Corvette inevitably the loser.

Third, DeLorenzo’s article links development of the C7 as a mid-engined car to development of a successful Corvette race car. It is crystal clear that the link between the racing program and the street Corvette is very direct. The Z06 was developed, to a substantial degree, from the C6R race car. Moreover, Chevrolet has remained commited to the American LeMans Series, even though competitors in that series either have been absent or given substantial rules advantages to induce them to enter. Chevrolet recently extended the C6R program. There is really no reason for the company to persist in ALMS competition unless, just as DeLorenzo says, their ultimate goal is the overall win at LeMans. 

Fourth is the ego factor. General Motors aims to be an international car company. Though it may have made a number of mistakes along the way and some believe it cannot achieve that goal, that doesn’t alter the fact that it is the goal.

GM’s international competition is in that market and an upgraded C6 isn’t going to be competitive with the GT-R Nissan and the A8 Audi, or upcoming competitors from Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. In that regard, one point in DeLorenzo’s report has received very little attention: in passing, he mentions the next generation Cadillac XLR. The current XLR has been a complete flop.

There is absolutely no reason for GM to invest a dime in face-lifting the current model, which would be the only possible move if a next-generation Corvette were a derivative of the current model. There would be no reason to believe a face-lifted XLR would sell better than the current one. It makes sense to try again with that model only if it is an entirely new vehicle.

DeLorenzo points out that GM’s top management intend the company to be a technology oriented company. It is their strategy for leapfrogging the competition.

The Chevrolet Volt is but one aspect of that commitment. A mid-engined Corvette that delivers the performance of the competition at a much lower price is both consistent with the Corvette heritage and an exceptionally good way to cement the image of technological superiority.

AutoExtremist has often, in the past, seemed well wired into General Motors. It sometimes seems that when GM wants to float a trial balloon on certain subjects, they call DeLorenzo. DeLorenzo’s report is detailed and concrete and based, he says, on first-hand information. 

Sure, there have been mid-engine rumors around every new Corvette, since some of the first mid-engined concept cars, such as the 1973 Corvette Four Rotor pictured above. But it is commonly acknowledged that Chevrolet was giving serious consideration to a Corvette supercar with a mid-engined layout. If you can solve the various engineering obstacles for that car, why not spread the engineering investment over a far larger production volume and actually make money on the thing?

What do you think?
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