DETROIT — In early June, Jeff Cauley got the news he was waiting for — a letter from General Motors confirming that his suburban Detroit Chevrolet store will get four new Corvette ZR1s when the cars go on sale this August.
"We've taken names on a list, and we've committed to two of those four cars already," said Cauley, owner of Cauley Chevrolet in West Bloomfield Township, Mich. "I'm happy to be getting them, but it's frustrating, too, when you have 60 or 70 people who want to buy one."
Of Chevrolet's 3,932 dealers nationwide, just 338 are getting a crack at selling the ZR1. GM is basing the tight allocation on those who have high-volume total retail sales and sell a lot of Corvettes. Cauley sells about 150 Corvettes a year.
Ken Fichtner is not one of the lucky dealers. He wanted a ZR1 in his store near Billings, Mont., so badly that he took extra Corvette stock last year to try to boost his sales and earn an allocation.
"We're not a big boy," said Fichtner, who owns Fichtner Chevrolet in Laurel, Mont. "The system is what the system is — I'm disappointed." Fichtner sells 35 to 40 Corvettes a year.
"I understand what the small dealers are saying, and I can empathize," said Chevrolet spokesman Terry Rhadigan. "On the other hand, would it be fair to take a dealer who sells Corvettes for us all year, every year, and not give them one? There are always trade-offs."
The superfast ZR1 starts at $105,000, including shipping and a gas-guzzler tax. Its 6.2-liter V-8 is rated at 638 hp. The car can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and achieve a top speed of 205 mph, making it the fastest Corvette ever made.
Some small dealers say they'd like a chance to sell just one ZR1, but Rhadigan says that's not practical because dealers must pay for special training and equipment to service the car.
Voss Chevrolet in Dayton, Ohio, sells 90 to 100 Corvettes a year and about 2,400 total Chevrolets. GM awarded owner John Voss two ZR1s. He's a bit worried about selling them because of the high price tag. He says a small dealer would struggle.
"When you give a specialty car to small dealers, you're not doing any favors because they can't sell them and bigger dealers end up buying them," Voss said.
GM will not say how many ZR1s it intends to build. But Cauley hopes that GM will build extra and he'll get a fifth supermachine to sell.