Super 'Vette or Mini Car?

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, not when the company is burning cash in North America and has so many other needs. Chevrolet needs better passenger cars. Saturn needs marketing help. Pontiac needs, well, everything. And Hummer’s great brand equity is being squandered.

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.

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. It is beloved. The trouble is that hardly anyone really associates the Corvette with the Chevy name. 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.

I like high-performance cars, too. But rather than spend a lot of money to impress a cadre of speed freaks who already love Corvettes, here are some smarter ways to spend the money. 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 a domestic carmaker can leap frog the Toyota Camry.

Here’s another. How about using the money to build one of those stylish minicars GM unveiled at the New York Auto Show. GM’s product planners are in hot debate about the minicars. Should they build one? Well, what better way to show that you can make good cars than by selling a hot one that’s as fuel efficient as any conventional car on the market. And by the way, when GM put up a website to gauge interest in the minicars, nearly 1 million people checked it out. The Groove, pictured above, won the most praise. Maybe cash-strapped GM can build the Super ‘Vette and everything else they need. I doubt it. So just build the Groove.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.