Was the C6 Corvette a Mistake?
It sure looks that way.
Dubbed the C 5½ by some when it was introduced, the C6 Corvette came across as highly derivative of the previous model – and not all that good-looking, either. Those who had groaned when learning that the C6 design had been assigned to the stylist responsible for the Pontiac Aztek seemed to have been vindicated when the ungainly proportions of the C6 were revealed. And, though the Z06 version somehow looks better, the base C6 is still a plug ugly car.
And it ain’t selling, either.
(more after the jump)
Since the late 1990’s, production of the Corvette has always floated somewhere above 30,000 vehicles per year. Even in the last years of the C4 design, when the platform was more than a decade old and everyone knew a new one was in the pipeline, Chevy sold about 32,000 annually.
But Corvette sales in February tanked. Chevy barely broke the 2,000 vehicle level, down over 25% from the previous February. While February is traditionally a poor month for car sales, the downward trend in Corvette sales isn’t isolated to this past month. February sales were down almost 20% below those of January and there has been a consistent downward trend in Corvette sales, based on comparison to the same period a year previously, since June of 2007.
The C6 exists solely because General Motors wanted to build the Cadillac XLR and needed to use the Corvette platform to amortize the costs over a larger number of vehicles than Cadillac could sell. That the XLR turned out to be a sales disaster didn’t help, but the motivation behind that car is the explanation behind the decision to produce a new Corvette when sales of the old version were still pretty strong – something GM has been loath to do in the past.
So, now GM finds itself with a car that’s not selling, in a down market. Even incentives aren’t working. Dealers are still holding 2007 models which they can’t sell, even with $3,000 incentives during the past two months.
But that, truly, is not the worst of it. GM insiders told TopSpeed.com during the recent North American International Auto Show that all of the product plans at GM were up for re-evaluation, which includes the next generation Corvette, the C7. Though Corvette engineers remained optimistic about the Corvette’s place in the line-up – because it uses an engine shared with the light truck line – they were also blunt in acknowledging that the Corvette was a low priority for engineering resources in an environment in which the company would be scrambling to meet upcoming Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.
That means the C6 is likely to be the Corvette in the showroom for some time to come.
GM has already resorted to trying to glamorize the car, with the upcoming “427” Will Cooksey special edition and the very limited production ZR1. GM has a long history, particularly at Chevrolet and Pontiac, of using “special editions” to try to juice up the sales of a model that is past its prime.
The real risk to the Corvette, however, comes from the economics of the assembly plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the car is produced. Until the XLR was added, that plant was exclusively devoted to the Corvette. Even the addition of the XLR kept the plant concentrated on the single, limited production platform upon which both cars are built.
But, with XLR sales almost non-existent and C6 Corvette sales plummeting, the question is whether the Bowling Green plant can earn its keep. Last year, shortly after the new contract with the UAW was signed, rumors surfaced that Pontiac Solstice production would shift to Bowling Green in the next few years, sparking speculation about whether the Corvette and Solstice would be built on the same platform. Given the size disparity between the two, that led to speculation about whether the Corvette might end up with a V-6 powerplant.
That puts GM in a box: this is not the time, politically or economically, to be devoting scarce resources to developing a new, world-beater Corvette. But, a plant that isn’t making money can’t be tolerated, either, even if it does produce a halo vehicle. And, to make matters even worse, GM’s committed to building its own competitor to the Corvette – the Camaro – in about another year.
The Corvette has always found someone to be its champion and savior, even when the stars at GM seemed aligned against it. It may be time for another one.
Source: Corvette Blog