The Stringray Is Back With A Mission

It turns out that the car that’s going back to the future isn’t a DeLorean after all. It’s a seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette dubbed the Stingray in homage to the classic sports car that first vrooomed onto the tarmac 60 years ago but hasn’t carried that nameplate since the mid-’70s. 

To be sure, “this isn’t your daddy’s Corvette,” as Nathan Bomey writes in the Detroit Free Press, “but it will stir emotional memories.” 

General Motors hopes the new Corvette, which it formally unveiled with much fanfare at a “clandestine reveal event” yesterday on the eve of the opening of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (check back here for our Karl Greenberg’s ongoing coverage) “will become the poster child for a 2013 product blitz designed to buff GM's top-selling Chevrolet line,” according to Jeff Bennett and Joseph B. White in the Wall Street Journal. It’s the first major redesign of the ‘Vette in nine years. 

"We squandered the market position we had in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s," CEO Dan Akerson said. "Now we have to get it back."

The Stringray itself debuted on a 1959 race car built by GM’s design chief, Bill Mitchell, according to the New York Times’ Paul Stenquist. “The hope for that original Stingray race car was to beat Europe’s best, and GM still seems to be thinking along those lines.”

"We want to reinforce the fact that it is a halo product and tie it closely to the Chevrolet brand," said Chevy’s VP for marketing, Chris Perry. 

The New York Times website has an fascinating video about the reconstruction of a 1964 XP-819 concept car that gives an indication of the hagiography surrounding the vehicle.

"I joined the company because of this car," said Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America. His father was a GM president “who drove him around in the iconic sports car when he was young enough to scrunch down in what passed for a backseat,” writes Bomey. 

And he was re-doing a ’69 Corvette when he had his first date  with his wife. “It had a 427-cubic-inch, 400-horsepower, tri-power engine with 700-automatic transmission,” he said. The entry-level 2014 Corvette will have a 450-horsepower V-8 and go from 0-60 in less than four seconds. But who really pays attention to those things nowadays except the most dedicated gearheads?

The New York Times’ Nick Bilton suggests in a “Disruptions” column this morning that we’ve become so jaded about performance that what things look like is eclipsing how they actually work in the minds of most consumers.

“We’re on the tail end of technology being special,” John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, tells him. “The automobile was a weird alien technology when it first debuted, then, after a while, it evolved and designers stepped in to add value to it.”

Indeed, writes Bilton, “walk into most car showrooms in America and sales clerks might spend more time explaining the shape of the heated seat than the engine that moves the car along.” 

Even Car and Driver’s Andrew Wendler writes that the new Corvette “is peppered with more-pronounced creases, larger and more numerous vents, and an angrier front fascia and headlamp treatment” and other stylistic details before he tells us about the “naturally aspirated Gen V small-block 6.2-liter pushrod V-8” under the hood.

Auto critics seem to be loving the latest carnation. 

“The iconic American sports car has survived a troubled birth, quality problems and development delays,” writes James R. Healey, in USA Today. “It has overcome threats from recessions and regulations. And it has outlasted waffling by Chevy parent General Motors over whether such a car should exist at all. It appears, through all that, to have become younger than ever.”

In a sidebar this morning, the Wall Street Journal’s Jeff Bennett reveals “GM has quietly sent about 2,300 of its Chevrolet dealers and 600 of its Chevrolet division employees to three-day Disney Institute training sessions.” 

“We are not trying to turn them into theme park owners,” according to Chevrolet VP of Sales and Service Don Johnson. “[But] think of all the applicable lessons you can get from Disney that you then turn around and institute in your own organizations.”

The foremost lesson, we presume, is that everybody but the competition likes a happy ending. 

“To many fans, the new Corvette symbolizes the rebirth of America's auto industry after its near death in 2009, showing the world that it again can lead in technology, styling and performance -- at a lower cost that European competitors,” writes the AP’s Tom Krisher.

Tags: automotive
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