Super 'Vette?

David Welch

The car nut blogosphere has been abuzz recently over the possibility that General Motors Corp. might develop a mid-engine Corvette when the next-generation sports car comes out in 2010 or 2011. It could be the next Corvette or, as suggested months ago, it could be a super high-performance version of the car that sells alongside the traditional, value-priced rear-wheel drive ‘Vette.

It would be great to see an American supercar. But I just don’t think this is what GM needs right now. Make no mistake. Having an American company put out a car that can run with the top Ferraris and Lamborghinis would be a nice badge of honor for GM and Detroit, especially given the relentless drumbeat of bad news in Motown. Various reports slap a six-figure price tag on the car. The mid-engine configuration would give it terrific balance and superior handling. Plus, there aren’t many mid-engine cars on the market. The Porsche Boxster and Lamborghini Gallardo are two examples.

Still, I’m not sure this makes sense. Let’s face it. High-end sports cars sold by mass-market carmakers are all about marketing. The Corvette is already a terrific franchise for GM and has been for many years. The Z06 high-performance version can outrun a Gallardo and sells for a fraction of the price. Though the Corvette sells at Chevy dealerships, hardly anyone really associates the Corvette with the Chevy brand. So GM would be adding luster to an already terrific brand—Corvette—and doing little for Chevy, which is desperately trying to prove that it’s not just a place to buy pickups and suvs.

That means GM could end up spending a lot of money for a car that impresses a cadre of sports car buyers who are already geeked about Corvettes. GM has no platform for this car. So it could be expensive to engineer the car. There are cheap ways to make specialty cars that sell only a few hundred or a few thousand a year. But insiders at GM say the Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice—which were supposed to be engineered for low-cost manufacturing—are money losers. If they want to spend money on something hot, I’d rather see a Cadillac that can compete with a BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz S-class. Or just plow those millions into the next Chevy Malibu and show Americans that they can leap frog the Toyota Camry.

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