General Motors insiders have done little to downplay expectations that some form of electrified Corvette, perhaps even one entirely battery powered, is in the works. But what’s coming could be a bit different than what many have anticipated, following Ford’s lead with the decision to shift to a CUV body style for the Mustang Mach-E.
That approach could address several issues simultaneously, starting with the need to pack in enough batteries to give the vehicle the performance expected of something wearing the Corvette badge, while also delivering acceptable range.
During a series of online events at the Consumer Electronics Show this past week, GM officials indicated that 300 to 400 miles per charge will become the baseline for consumer acceptance. Such a move would also play to the ongoing market shift to utility vehicles that has sent sales of sedans, coupes and sports car tumbling.
On the downside, the question is whether such a move would dilute the carefully nurtured image of the Corvette and turn off existing buyers while failing to attract a new group of customers.
It’s been barely a year since the eighth-generation Corvette – the C8 to fans – made its debut, marking the switch to a mid-engine layout, the most radical shift for the sports car in its nearly seven decades on the market. Even before the current-generation Corvette first debuted, however, rumors of an all-electric model began circulating, as have purported spy shots.
Several senior members of the Corvette team have hinted at plans in conversations with TheDetroitBureau.com, among other things indicating the new car’s platform could allow space for a battery pack. Several purported timetables have emerged indicating Chevrolet is working on hybrid or plug-in versions of the sports car. But when directly asked about the opportunity of a hybrid model, GM President Mark Reuss has responded on several occasions with the company’s new mantra, that it is “on a path to an all-electric future.
Whether enough batteries could be packed into the C8 architecture to meet performance and range minimums is far from clear, though there’s no question GM could deliver plenty of power. For one thing, electric motors deliver peak tire-spinning torque the moment they turn on. For its part, GM plans to make a whopping 1,000 horsepower with the big GMC Hummer pickup debuting later this year, or more than twice as much as the current C8 Corvette.
Range would be the biggest challenge, at least from a technical standpoint, though the other question is whether the market would accept a crossover – or according to a new report by the Bloomberg, “a family of vehicles,” as the news service says it has been told by “people familiar with the matter.”
GM may have gotten some comfort and guidance this past week from its most traditional foe, Ford Motor Co. The automaker made the controversial decision several years ago to name its first long-range battery-electric vehicle the Mustang Mach-E.
Going with an electric crossover clearly made sense, according to industry analysts, considering the shift in market demand. Light trucks, in general – and utility vehicles, in particular — are expected to soon account for about 80% of U.S. sales, Cox Automotive forecast last week. But Ford initially got pushback from classic Mustang owners. But the negative impact seems to be minor while strong demand for the Mach-E suggests Ford’s decision to go this route for the first-ever Mustang brand extension will pay off.
It certainly didn’t hurt when, on Monday, a jury of 50 U.S. and Canadian autowriters declared the Mustang Mach-E the North American Utility of the Year, an award that has historically given a sharp boost to a vehicle’s sales.
A high-level GM executive told TheDetroitBureau.com that there was “no disappointment” in that, primarily because it gives a boost to electric vehicles in general. But it also suggests that there could be room for a similar strategy with the Corvette.
The C8 has shown that there’s still more life left in the sports car market than many had anticipated. Sales rose 20% last year and, if anything, GM has been limited by production challenges worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. It is now considering ways to expand output at its Bowling Green, Kentucky plant producing the ‘Vette.
The initial success of the Mustang Mach-E isn’t the only beacon that GM can see suggesting sports car buyers are open to new options. Porsche faced early resistance to the idea of adding products like the Cayenne SUV and Panamera sedan. But the idea of the all-electric Taycan model was accepted by Porsche aficionados almost immediately.
Virtually all performance car brands now offer SUVs, Aston Martin buried under orders for its first, the DBX and even Ferrari getting its own design ready. The Italian automaker has also confirmed it will be bringing out an all-electric model, along with hybrids, in the coming years. Bentley, for its part, plans to be 100% battery electric by 2030.
GM also can look within for assurance, initial orders for the all-electric GMC Hummer exceeding even its own optimistic expectations, according to a well-placed insider.
What seems clear is that GM will have no choice but to electrify the Corvette, at least not if CEO Mary Barra’s plan to have an all-electric future is to ring true. And, with SUVs and CUVs the clear body style choice of today’s market, General Motors may have no excuse not to echo the approach Ford took with the Mustang Mach-E.