GM ponders Corvette supercar

High-priced competition
A sampling of 2001 2-passenger performance and luxury cars priced above $100,000
Ferrari 360 Modena convertible $161,475
Aston Martin DB7 Vantage coupe $148,050
Mercedes-Benz SL600 $132,195
BMW Z8 convertible $130,745
Porsche Turbo coupe, H-6 $113,176
Note: Price includes gas-guzzler tax and transportation cost.

MONTEREY, Calif. — General Motors is considering a second nameplate for the Corvette — a high-horsepower model with a $100,000 sticker.

The new car, distinctly different from today’s Corvette, would put Chevrolet head to head with such sports car heavyweights as Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche. But some strategists at GM fear that a second car under the Corvette banner could hurt the brand.

“We are considering a Corvette supercar with a big ramp-up in horsepower, (and a) big ramp-up in

using unique materials,” said Ron Zarrella, president of GM North America. He gave no timetable for when a decision would be made.

Zarrella was interviewed at a press preview for three concepts that GM will unveil next year. One of the concepts, the Cadillac Cien, is a mid-engined, two-passenger sports car with an experimental V-12 engine producing 750 hp and 450 pounds-feet of torque. GM executives at the event said there are no plans to produce the Cien or the V-12 engine.

But asked whether materials, components, an engine or platform could be shared by a Cadillac and Corvette supercar, Zarrella said, “It’s a possibility, but we haven’t gotten that far yet. We’ve got folks looking at, if we wanted to do a $100,000 supercar for Corvette, what would that look like?”

The Lutz factor

A new factor in the discussion is Robert Lutz, GM’s recently hired vice chairman and product czar. He will have a big voice in any discussions about adding a second car to the Corvette brand.

Lutz was part of the team at Chrysler Corp. that created the Dodge Viper, a low-volume halo car priced at $70,000. But Lutz also prides himself in his cost discipline.

The $100,000-plus two-passenger car category is crowded with European brands. Some cars are geared to luxury and comfort, like those from Mercedes-Benz and BMW, while others, such as Porsche and Ferrari, are aimed at superior performance.

At the high end will be the Mercedes-Benz Vision SLR, which bows in late 2002 or early 2003. It will be priced in the $350,000 range. The car is being developed at McLaren, Mercedes’ racing partner in Woking, England.

In addition, Porsche is eyeing a production version of the Carrera GT concept with an estimated price above $300,000.

Zarrella said various platforms and engine configurations are being considered for the Corvette supercar. One possibility is using the next-generation Corvette, which bows in 2004. The redesigned Corvette will share an architecture with the 2004 Cadillac XLR, a two-passenger roadster based off the Evoq concept.

Cause for concern

Zarrella said there are serious concerns about expanding the Corvette brand.

On one hand, there “is the strength of the Corvette brand and the strength of the Corvette product,” he said. But GM has “limited resources, and there are sets of priorities for those resources. Do you really want to move that up to the top of the list?”

He also worries about harming the Corvette’s image.

“The second part of that discussion is that you introduce an element of risk every time you do that with a brand. Corvette has had one very unique, very focused position for a long time,” Zarrella said. “Do you risk watering down that position by expanding it, or do you keep it as an icon brand within General Motors focused on the kinds of vehicles that it is known for?”

More power

GM tinkered with the Corvette brand in recent years, which showed customers’ thirst for more power and performance.

When the current generation Corvette bowed for the 1997 model year, GM intended later to add a lower-priced model with less equipment and possibly a less powerful V-8. But the 1997 Corvette and subsequent models exceeded sales expectations, and GM did not introduce the less expensive version.

In fact, GM discovered enthusiasts were willing to pay extra for more power and handling enhancements, and the automaker responded with the Corvette Z06. It debuted for the 2001 model year with a 385-hp engine, along with handling and stability enhancements. It carried a $47,500 sticker price including transportation.

By comparison, the base 2001 Corvette coupe has 350 hp and a $40,925 sticker price.

The automotive press and Corvette enthusiasts quickly endorsed the Z06, calling the car a bargain for that price.

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