Monday, March 4, 2013

Mid-life crisis? New Corvette convertible unveiled

It was just another car rolling down the assembly line this past week ? or would have been if it wasn't, in fact, the last sixth-generation Corvette to be produced at General Motors? assembly plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The white two-seater with a dark canvas top was perhaps the appropriate way to end a product run that began in 2005. Sometimes referred to as ?America?s sports car,? the seventh-generation Corvette almost didn?t make it to production, the project nearly scuttled by GM?s 2009 bankruptcy. But even a year late, the new coupe version of the ?Vette, which fans call the C7, proved the star of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this past January.

Company officials there revealed plans to add an assortment of spin-off models, and an all-new version of the Chevrolet Corvette Convertible will make its formal debut at this coming week?s Geneva Motor Show.

It was the star of the hometown car show but now General Motors hopes to prove its new, seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette has international appeal as it drops the top on the so-called "C7? by introducing the convertible edition at the Geneva Motor Show.

Though a few hazy ?spy shots? have surfaced in recent weeks, these are the first official images of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible, which reveal that GM designers and engineers went to great lengths to maintain the striking shape of the coupe that was first introduced in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Indeed, in a conversation with, Tadge Juechter, the chief engineer on the C7 Corvette program stressed that it ?was designed with the convertible in mind.? That?s unlike the way GM and many other automakers have traditionally approached the development of a ragtop.

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All too often, they start out with a coupe and then find ways to slice off the roof. But that weakens the overall vehicle platform, something you clearly don?t want in a sports car, so it requires the introduction of significant supports and bracing. With the 2014 Corvette Convertible, however, there?s essentially nothing added. Yet the base model of the C7 droptop, Juechter said, is 20 percent stiffer than the old hardtop version of the higher-performance Corvette Z06.

There will be a modest gain in weight, he acknowledged, because of the folding rooftop rails and the motor drive system. Specific details won?t be released until Geneva, but the new convertible is expected to be operated by a single button and will be able to be raised and lowered while moving slowly. Considering competitive convertible sports cars like the Porsche 911 Cabriolet can operate in less than 20 seconds, the new C7 Convertible likely will be quicker, as well.

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Chevrolet eventually plans an assortment of Corvette Coupe variants, as in the past, with the stock hardtop shown in Detroit, and a higher-performance Z06 and a track-ready ZR1 to follow over the next several years, according to various sources. It?s not clear yet if the Detroit maker also will offer multiple versions of the Convertible, but that appears likely.

Chevrolet marked the final year ? and the 60th anniversary ? of the Corvette nameplate by introducing a tire-shredding version of the last-generation, ?C6? ?Vette. Dubbed the Grand Sport, it was the most powerful version of the 2-seater ever produced, at 430-horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque.

At launch, the new C7 Convertible will share the same drivetrain as the new 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe, which means it will actually deliver more power than the Grand Sport, at 450-hp and 450 lb-ft. And though ever so slightly heavier than the hardtop, the al fresco edition should also be able to deliver 0-to-60 times of four seconds or less.

All that?s fine, but why go all the way to Geneva to introduce the new Chevrolet Corvette Convertible rather than, say, wait for less than a month and reveal it during the last of the season?s big U.S. car shows in New York?

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The answer has to do with the changing nature of Chevy itself. While you might think of it as ?the Heartbeat of America,? as it long billed itself, the modern reality is that nearly two of every three Chevrolet products will be sold outside North America this year. In an otherwise retrenching European car market, it?s one of the few growing marques. It?s an increasingly strong player in China and the bowtie brand has traditionally been one of the most powerful in Latin America, as well.

While many of those markets get unique products, such as the Captiva crossover, that we don?t even see in the States, the Corvette has been as much a halo car for Chevrolet abroad as it has been at home. And with GM?s largest brand aiming to turn the C7 remake of ?America?s sports car? into a truly global competitor, targeting exotics as far afield as Porsche and even Ferrari, Geneva takes the fight to their home turf.

Copyright ? 2009-2013, The Detroit Bureau


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