General Motors is moving forward with long-rumored plans for a midengine Chevrolet Corvette, marking the biggest engineering change in the venerable sports car since its debut in the 1950s, according to a report.
The Detroit News, citing multiple sources “familiar with the company’s planning,” reported on Thursday that GM plans to begin selling a midengine Corvette in early 2019.
The Corvette, one of GM’s oldest nameplates, continues to attract mostly older buyers and the automaker is eager to switch to a midengine layout to attract younger consumers, the paper said. Midengined cars typically have a weight advantage over front-engine cars in part because the drivetrain is more compact and placed more centrally in the car, improving handling during high speed driving.
Chevrolet declined to comment on the News report.
Bob Lutz, who retired as head of global product development for GM in 2010, told the News that company management approved plans for a midengine Corvette in 2007 but said the program was scuttled under GM’s government-led bankruptcy in 2009.
The latest plans for a midengine Corvette are being championed by Mark Reuss, GM’s current head of product development, the News said, citing a former GM employee with knowledge of the project.
There have been several reports in Car & Driver and other media outlets over the past two years speculating about revived plans for a midengine Corvette.
While the Corvette has been GM’s premier performance vehicle for decades, a switch to a midengine layout would entail a major overhaul of the current car, the C7. Almost no parts could be carried over because nearly all of the major components on a midengine car would in different locations.
Switching from a front to midengine layout would entail engineering a new chassis, creating a new transaxle -- the transmission and axle -- to drive the rear wheels, developing new cooling, air conditioning and suspension systems, and designing an all new body.
A midengined Corvette would give GM a true competitor to Ford’s upcoming GT supercar, which is midengined, as well as supercars from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche.
The biggest challenge for GM would be to keep the car affordable. All midengine supercars have starting prices that top more than $100,000.
Car & Driver previously reported that a midengine Corvette would be priced around $80,000 and would use a version of the current Corvette’s V-8 engine.
If the C8 does move up in price and into a different performance bracket, the void could be filled by the latest generation Camaro ZL1, a high-end variant of GM’s pony car. That car is powered by a 640 hp V-8 engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission, which can reach 60 mph in 3.5 seconds.
A midengine vehicle is not uncharted territory for GM. The 1960-69 Chevrolet Corvair and 1984-88 Pontiac Fiero, while not sports cars, had engines slotted behind the driver.
Car & Driver also reported that some prototypes of the C8 are housed in Building 54 at GM’s proving grounds in Milford, Mich.
In June, spy photos emerged of what appeared to be a midengined vehicle testing at the proving ground.
The prototype featured a long tail wearing some C7 Corvette body panels without the rear glass cover. The photos suggested that the engine was placed just ahead of the rear axle, with the glass panel taken out during testing to help cool the engine.
Some analysts that tract auto industry product and production plans in recent months have added a midengine Corvette to their forecasts, pegging a 2019 arrival. Car & Driver has reported it will be shown at the Detroit auto show in January 2018.
Under that timeframe, the current C7 Corvette would be over 5 years old when the midengine Corvette comes to market.
In June, GM disclosed plans to spend $290 million to retool the Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant where the Corvette is assembled.
The factory’s assembly operations are set to be upgraded and modified for “technology upgrades and manufacturing process improvements.”
In 2015, GM said it would spend $439 million on a new paint shop at the Corvette-only plant. Work on the paint shop began last year and will run until mid 2017.
U.S. sales of the Corvette have slipped 20 percent to 16,827 through the first seven months of 2016, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
Staff reporters Richard Truett and Mike Colias contributed to this report.