4-passenger Vette? The time has come

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News

If Porsche can do it, why can't Chevrolet?

Why can't Chevy build a four-passenger Vette?

I can't tell you how many times over the years I've heard the folks at General Motors say it would be a sacrilege to create a four-passenger Vette. "It would damage the brand and turn off owners and potential buyers," is the usual response.

I've written about this topic in the past, and I come down on the opposite side of the argument. My belief is that unless GM expands the Corvette lineup -- meaning the addition of a comfortable four-seater -- the nameplate may end up on the endangered species list.

Enthusiasts largely adhere to GM's dogma -- a Corvette must only seat two -- and often criticize dissenting opinions.

Such criticism isn't new.

Porsche faced the same opposition when the four-door Panamera debuted about 18 months ago. The car was created because the automaker wanted to open the brand to a wide range of buyers, people who lust after a Porsche but need a comfortable four-seater. Naysayers said the car would be a sales dud.

According to a story in this week's Automotive News by a colleague, Diana T. Kurylko, the four-door Panamera is a big hit.

Porsche hoped to sell about 5,400 Panameras last year. Instead, sales blew past that projection, ending nearly at 7,800 units.

Michael Bartsch, COO of Porsche Cars of America, says nearly 80 percent of Panamera buyers are new to the brand. Nearly 50 percent are conquest buyers trading a Lexus, 27 percent a Mercedes-Benz. The average transaction price for the lowest-priced V-6 Panamera is $84,000.

Those are pretty attractive numbers.

Porsche is not alone. Maserati has a four-door, the Quattroporte, and Aston Martin has the Rapide.

Even Ferrari has introduced a new four-passenger model, the FF. The all-wheel-drive is a two-door that looks like a station wagon, according to some enthusiasts. Some might say that car has two strikes against it, awd and a station wagon appearance, right? Think again. The FF was introduced at the Geneva auto show this month and quickly sold out production until mid-2012. By the way, the asking price is only $369,000.

The sports car market is being reinvented. The once successful formula for a range of two-passenger vehicles no longer applies. Variety is creating a greater opportunity for profitability.

Corvette is struggling -- last year was its worst sales year in about 50 years. Sure, the recession smacked Corvette sales, but the days of 30,000-plus annual sales may be long gone.

Most Corvette buyers are in their 50s, and older -- not the kind of demographic any automaker is comfortable with. The nameplate needs new blood.

This is the decade to reinvent the nameplate, or watch it fade away.

Corvette needs to add a four-seater.

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