"Between dialing for dollars on Capitol Hill, dealing with PR flaps over corporate jets, getting the Volt to market, picking up the tab for decades of mistakes, the world financial crises, and just trying to keep the lights on, I doubt Rick Wagoner and Company have had much time to worry about a little deal like the Corvette. But I have my concerns."
So wrote Matt Stone about the company that builds this beautiful 2009 Corvette ZR1 in a recent (11/27) Motor Trend Magazine editorial.
While we await the decisions to be made by those in Washington, D.C. next week (?), who have had an excessively large part in creating the troubles of the American automobile industry in the first place, you may enjoy reading Stone's concerns. Before you jump to the rest of his editorial, though, I just have to say: Why do I not hear anyone saying that the federal government is to blame because of its ridiculous mandates to create high gas mileage out of thin air? For years and years, they have raised the CAFE level, requiring financial investment for technological development that profits did not allow. Shame on that swamp on the Potomac!
"A few weeks ago, it was announced that several key players in the Corvette's existence will be "taking retirement" as of November 1. They are Vehicle Line Executive Tom Wallace (program director and chief engineer), Gary Claudio (Corvette marketing guy), Ron Meegan (Chief Engineer for the LS3, LS7 and LS9 engines), and John Heinricy, (serious car dude, sports car racer, former C4 Chief Engineer, etc.).
"Previous VLE David Hill brought us the C5 and C6, and although the ZR1 came to market under Wallace's watch, we never really saw what he could or would do with America's Sportscar. But he sure asked a lot of questions, and the right ones: "Should we do a mid-engined car? Should we develop a dual-clutch gearbox? Should we make the car lighter? What sort of special editions should we do?" Claudio exhibited the typical, never ending exuberance you'd expect of a marketing guy, but he loved his car and his job. Meegan told me things about engines I never new, flew the flag overhead valves, and helped the latest versions of the Small-Block Chevy V-8 become as sophisticated as they have. Heinricy is a legit performance car and racing legend, surely with Bowtie logos tatooed on his heart.
"Will the Corvette live on? Yes, but there's no question that its development will stutter, and likely be pushed back several years beyond the C7's projected 2012 launch date. Ongoing C6 technology development and such will slow, crawl, or may even stop altogether for the foreseeable future.
"I remember when Zora Arkus Duntov handed the Corvette over to his replacement, Dave McLellan, everyone said the Vette was dead. But McLellan brought us the C4, impressive for its day, with a serious focus on handling that had never been achieved before.
"The new VLE for Corvette is Gene Stefanyshyn, who was GM's Global Rear Wheel Drive Vehicle Line Executive, and a major player in the engineering of the 2010 Camaro. I know Gene; he's a darn decent guy and a smart engineer who knows how to bring home a development program. But does he have the heat for this assignment? Does he have the vision (and will he have the team and the budget) to take the car forward? This remains to be seen. It also disturbs me that, as I understand it, Stefanyshyn will retain responsibility for other performance nameplates, and not be focused solely on the Vette, as have been his predecessors most of the time.
"While we're at it, I say the Corvette really needs to leap ahead from a design and technology standpoint. Stop copying Ferrari (360 Modena headlights, the ZR1's peek-a-boo engine window just like on the F430, except it looks down on a piece of plastic, not the actual engine or blower). Give the car a world class cabin. And don't make its butt any bigger than it already is. Celebrate the Vette's wonderful history without being beholden to it. Don't follow, Gene - lead.
"I for one hope things right themselves, and the Vette can continue on the road is has blazed for 55 years. But there are bumps ahead, and the ride will be rough for a while."