2014 Chevrolet C7
American tax dollars put to excellent use
Last summer, a funny thing happened on the way to GM's bankruptcy. Government practitioners sent to administer CPR discovered a jewel in the rough -- the perennially profitable Corvette. Without hesitation, they shifted the next-generation Vette from indefinite hold to fully funded program.
For engineers like Tadge Juechter, who has developed Corvettes for seventeen years, it doesn't get any better than a green light from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. "We began working on C7 last fall," the fifty-three-year-old chief engineer explained. "We haven't announced production timing, but past Corvettes required three to four years of engineering and development. So there will be several more years with the current body style before a new model arrives."
Asked what new technologies we should expect to see in the next Corvette, a cautious Juechter answered, "Fuel economy is an obvious priority. Today's Corvettes provide excellent mileage, but we intend to pursue any strategy that has the potential of improving both fuel economy and performance."
Asked whether V-8s will remain a core attribute, Juechter offered a surprising response, "Corvette will always be a high-performance sports car, so that means it must continue to offer high-performance powertrains. Acknowledging the fact that the world is full of high-output V-6s, including a few at GM, I'd say that nothing is off the table at this point. We're in the due-diligence phase of determining which engines will yield the best C7. Considering V-8 alternatives is analogous to our move away from pop-up headlamps, a Corvette tradition for four generations. But the bottom line is always whatever strategy delivers the best car."
When chided for the lack of transmission and driveline innovation during the C6 era, Juechter became defensive. "The popular perception that more transmission speeds means higher efficiency is not supported by our analytical results," he said. "Corvette engines have broad torque and power bands that don't need extra gears to hold them at their efficiency peaks.
"The wider ratio spreads offered by seven- and eight-speed transmissions are useful to a point. But with extra gears come extra moving parts and spin losses. While dual-clutch transmissions tend to be more efficient than torque-converter automatics, they still exhibit slippage during launch.
"All-wheel drive makes a lot of sense in some applications, such as expensive sports cars and for sedan buyers seeking maximum security in bad weather. We like the additional launch traction provided by all-wheel drive, but the extra mass diminishes performance and mileage. And since the Corvette has traditionally been a three-season sports car, we don't have customers clamoring for improved winter mobility.
"There are many technologies that are attractive -- including hybrid powertrains and mid-engine layouts -- but it comes down to making the smartest choices for our customers. The one attribute we have no intention of changing is the extraordinary value that Corvettes have always provided."
Given Juechter's staunch defense of the C6 Corvette's engineering during the years that he and I have debated the merits of a mid-engine layout, a transmission moved behind the rear axle, and alternatives to fiberglass leaf springs, here's what we see in our C7 crystal ball:
Smaller engines: The goal is power comparable to today's Corvette V-8s with significantly better fuel efficiency. Plan on direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, and active fuel management (cylinder shutdown) to keep the pushrod V-8s in play. A larger version of the turbocharged DOHC V-6 powering the Cadillac SRX crossover could serve as the C7's base engine.
Fewer pounds: Without resorting to expensive carbon fiber or an aluminum frame for all Corvettes, Juechter's diet plan should enable the base coupe to drop below 3000 pounds by implementing narrower wheels and tires, smaller brakes, and smarter structural designs.
Lower aerodynamic drag: The wind tunnel never sleeps. Lessons learned in the lab and on the racetrack will help a new, smaller-looking Corvette slip through the air with the greatest of ease.
The return of the split rear window: GM design boss Ed Welburn has confirmed that the prominent exo-vertebra of the 2009 Stingray concept (above and on the opposite page) is one feature he intends to transfer to the C7.
- Don Sherman