DETROIT - More than 50 years after the Chevrolet Corvette made its debut, General Motors still is learning how best to produce the sports car.
For the sixth-generation Chevrolet Corvette, which debuted at the Detroit auto show this month, that means tweaking the molding process to create better fit to the composite body panels.
"We're doing more with the tooling," says Dave Hill, the GM line executive who oversees the Corvette. "There are a lot of fit and finish issues that we're learning how to carry over."
Launch of the 2005 model in the fall is an important milestone for GM, since the Corvette is a consistent icon as well as one of the most desired American-made vehicles on the road. Its introduction was a highlight of the auto show.
"The response has been great," Hill says. "It goes without saying that we're very happy."
The first Corvettes had fiberglass bodies. The new version retains a plastic sheet molding compound outer body as well as composite flooring. But Hill says that GM and its suppliers also are using techniques developed for the 2003 launch of Corvette's sister sports car, the Cadillac XLR. To create a tighter fit and crisper lines, workers on the XLR carefully shifted freshly molded panels onto a special fixture to prevent warping or distortions.
"The things we learned in developing the Cadillac have allowed us to get to a higher level of surface perfection than we've had in the past," Hill says. Higher-technology materials may not be part of the new standard Corvette, but plans are under way for special-edition vehicles, he says.
Carbon fiber is being used on some 2004 Z06 Corvettes.
"We're looking at using the Z06 for our advanced programs," he says.
GM's two concept cars at the auto show also shared a body heritage with the Corvette, with both the Saturn Curve and Chevrolet Nomad using fiberglass for their bodies.
Executives have not stated any plans to build either car, but the concept models were built on a new rear-wheel-drive sports car platform, called Kappa.
The automaker built that platform for the future Pontiac Solstice, which began as a concept car in 2001 and will hit the roads within a year.
Rhoda Miel is a staff reporter for Plastics News, a sister publication to Automotive News.