Why Corvette in Europe faces a tough road

Across Europe, 'Vettes can cost one-third more than in the United States, hampering sales on the Continent. Chevy hopes to do better with the new Corvette Stingray. Photo credit: GM
UPDATED: 3/5/13 6:50 am ET

GENEVA -- By unveiling the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible in Europe, General Motors is signaling that it believes this generation of the 'Vette can stretch its halo beyond American shores.

Much has been made of the hints of Euro-flavored styling found on the coupe, interpreted as Chevy's bid to appeal to younger and international buyers. But it'll take more than that for Corvette to win consideration in Europe, the home to a disproportionate share of supercar brands.

Chevy sold only about 200 Corvettes in Europe last year and 377 in 2011, a spokesman says. There are plenty of reasons why those sales remain so puny, even as the Chevy brand as a whole gains traction here.

Europeans generally don't believe that Corvette measures up to Porsche and other European sports cars -- and for decades they were right. It won't be easy to convince European performance buyers that the Stingray will be as good as Chevy says it is.

Price is a problem, too.

Kurt Huber, one of Switzerland's largest Corvette dealers, told me after a rehearsal unveiling of the Stingray convertible here that in Europe, 'Vettes can cost one-third more than in the United States. A 2013 Corvette Grand Sport coupe, which stickers for about $57,000 in U.S. showrooms, runs more than $80,000 in his store.

The dealer network hasn't helped either. For years, Corvettes and Camaros were sold by Cadillac dealerships in Europe, says Susan Docherty, GM's European head of Chevy and Cadillac. GM recently fixed that distribution problem and now retails those sports cars through its Chevy network.

The importance of Corvette in Europe is "not about the volume," Docherty told me. "It's about the halo and what it does for the Chevrolet brand here."

That's true -- it's not like selling 1,200 Corvettes a year in Europe vs. 200 is going to make or break GM's bottom line.

The Corvette Stingray convertible

But it's hard for that halo to shine a glow on the Chevy brand if most Europeans have never seen one in person.

You can reach Mike Colias at autonews@crain.com

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