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Why Corvette Should Become the Next General Motors Sub-Brand

Motor City Blogman

Rumors that General Motors would break off the Corvette brand from the Chevrolet division go back at least as far as the Lutz era. In light of the unconfirmed mid-engine Corvette Zora, the estimable John McElroy last month called for it to happen in his "Autoline on Autoblog" column, and GM Authority quickly followed suit.

I think it's going to happen, though not quite the way McElroy expects.

John is calling for a full line of models, including crossover/utilities and a luxury sport sedan to compete with everything Porsche has got. I'd hate to see how, for example, a single compact CUV platform might be shared between Chevy, GMC, Buick, Corvette, and Cadillac. I'd bet it's going to be more like a sub-brand sold at both Cadillac and Chevrolet dealerships with separate Toyota Scion-like showrooms, only fancier. Chevy and Cadillac dealers in smaller markets (where they're often the same store, anyway) might opt out.

GM's history of sub-brands goes all the way back to 1926, when Cadillac begat LaSalle and Oakland spawned Pontiac. From 1929 to 1931, Buick had Marquette and Oldsmobile had Viking. Chevy got its sub-brand, Geo, in the 1980s. Hummer should have been GMC's sub-brand; that would have made it much easier and cheaper for both GM and its dealers to put an end to the marque six years ago.

Similarly, if a Corvette sub-brand doesn't meet GM's expectations, it will be easier to fold its models back into the main brands, with less risk for the dealerships.

GM has pretty much painted itself into a corner with the unconfirmed mid-engine Corvette (seen above in our rendering), probably to be named Zora. Cadillac needs a sports car, something to compete with the Audi R8, the Mercedes AMG GT, and others of that ilk. If the Corvette Zora was a Chevrolet, Cadillac would have to top an already expensive design. Softening the suspension and dropping on a new body, a la XLR, will not do, especially now that Cadillac's other models are aimed at BMW. Different engines -- the small block for the Chevy and the new DOHC V-8 for the Cadillac -- wouldn't be enough either, and in any case, volumes on expensive, mid-engine sports cars are far too small for GM to split the Zora into two models, no matter how great or small the differentiation.

Ultimately, GM might have trouble keeping Cadillac from becoming the dominant outlet for a Corvette sub-brand. But Chevrolet always will have Camaro, or for at least as long as Ford has Mustang. Corvette will become stronger only as a sub-brand, and with no more than two or three sports cars in its portfolio.