First the C7 Chevy Corvette was going to be unleashed in 2013. Then, it was reined in until 2014. Now, it'll be a 2014 model year car that may or may not be for sale at some point in 2013. While these delays and rumors are certainly frustrating to a hard-core contingent of car enthusiasts, that's just how the auto industry does business. It takes a hefty chunk of time to redesign, test and build a car.
There are a lot of Chevy fans (and muscle car fans, and car fans in general) who are eager to get a look at the updated Corvette. Though plenty of them will make an effort to actually drive it (by visiting a dealership, encroaching on a lucky friend or perhaps actually buying one), a lot will be happy just basking in its presence (hence the popularity of auto shows). Even if most of the wishful thinkers who are fervently following the press updates don't actually purchase a new Corvette, all this hype is still great for Chevy.
Until the yet-to-be-determined big reveal actually happens, the 2014 Corvette is a good example of why car manufacturers thrive on speculation and rumor -- it builds excitement not just for the forthcoming model, but for the brand itself. They'll feign annoyance over top secret "leaked" information that might have spilled onto the Internet from their own keyboards. They'll wrap test cars in camouflage and try to disguise new body panels to keep the competition guessing and keep the spy photographers scurrying. They'll parcel out little bits of information to keep people interested, which can help generate interest in the brands' other cars; new technology and designs that are featured on flagship models sometimes signal a shift in the automaker's overall strategy.
So, what makes this Corvette any different? Well, the rumormongering has been going strong for a couple years, which might seem like a long time, but even that's not particularly unusual in the auto industry. It's still too early to sort the facts from the speculation, but the C7 Corvette is predicted to bring forth some significant improvements over the current model ... and that's always worth a look.
Vetting the New 'Vette
Car monikers can get convoluted, but in this case, it's actually pretty straightforward. "C7" simply means this is the seventh Corvette. And the C7 refresh, according to Car and Driver magazine, will probably be one of the most considerable overhauls in the car's history.
The C6, has been around since 2005, aggressively nosing its way through traffic and leaving onlookers with a clear view of its comically wide rear end. And about a year before the C7 is released, the news keeps rolling. The discussion about the C7 has been going on for a long time, which, of course, leads to rumors. Rumors are great for the automakers -- they keep interest high.
And what keeps interest so piqued? After all, new cars are released every year -- some are even arguably more noteworthy than the Corvette. But the numbers help tell the story. In 2011, one of every three sports cars sold in the United States was a Camaro or a Corvette ... even though the current 'Vette was already nearing the end of its life span.
As of September 2012, the Bowling Green, Ky., production plant -- where all Corvettes are built -- is being set up for C7 Corvette production. It's a lot of work -- entire production lines need to be dismantled so old machinery can be pushed out and new tools brought in. It'll take about a year before the first C7s will hit dealership lots -- 2014 models are generally expected to become available, per industry standard, in late 2013. (And if you want to see one in person sooner than that, keep an eye on the car blogs -- chances are, there'll be a fresh-off-the-line production C7 available for viewing at one of the big auto shows, and when that's announced, it'll be big news.) If you've got ownership aspirations, Car and Driver expects prices to stay stable with the current model, starting at about $50,000 for a base-trim C7.
But that's all fact, and while the facts may keep us on track, car fans appear to think the rumors are even more interesting. Spy photographers, who make a living snapping photos of top-secret cars out in the wild (like car paparazzi) are able to provide us with precious glimpses of automotive prototypes we'd never otherwise see. And the popularity of the car blogs ensures that anyone who's interested can see these photos almost instantly ... and then discuss and analyze them to death.
So, thanks to those enterprising industry types, we actually have some idea how the C7 Corvette might look, and what those styling cues might actually mean for its performance.
Along with advance photos, industry experts have another source for clues: They often study the brand's recent concept cars hoping to find forward-thinking styling cues. The designers know that a concept car, especially an outrageous one, has little chance of being developed and brought to market, but that's OK. They serve a greater purpose -- generating interest in the brand while reading the car-buying public's pulse on potential new direction. A dramatic, new design element on a concept car might be toned down by the time it hits a production model in a couple years, but chances are, it'll show up again in some form. In the Corvette's case, its new lines appear to be foreshadowed by the Stingray concept, and whatever design elements make it to production are likely to trickle down throughout the Chevy model range.
Some test mules (the industry's term for cars that are driven by the automakers' design and engineering teams to test specific elements) were spotted with C6 body components -- in these cases, the engineers were probably primarily concerned about getting real-world feedback on engine and mechanical setups.
Even though the mules are still under wraps while they're out running around, the covering still provides some clues -- people who have been doing this for a while, like car magazine editors, are pretty good at divining critical details from shrouded silhouettes. Test cars have been extra careful to hide distinguishing details of the car's tail end, which means it's likely to have a few surprises. It's unlikely the Corvette's tell-tale quad round taillamps will be significantly changed -- it's one of the car's best-known design cues -- but the metal surrounding them is fair game. As best as the magazine editors can tell, the rake of the pillars is a little different, and the C6's wraparound rear window may have been abandoned in favor of an updated design. Also, they note, the C6's quad tailpipes are still there, but they've been arranged in a row rather than in pairs.
Possible carbon-fiber elements could be as dramatic as a full CF roof, which would reduce weight (more on that later), as well as provide an upscale look. Mesh on the front end covering of the test mules suggests the Corvette's new hood features ventilation via a hood scoop or louvers -- both common methods to sweep extra air toward the engine. The C6 currently has HID headlights, but the new headlights will get LED running lamps. However the front end shapes up, it's likely to look more aggressive than the current car.
There's been a lot of speculation about the C7's interior -- previous designs were generally accepted as underwhelming and inferior to the competition [source: Car and Driver]. So, interior materials are supposed to see a major improvement over the C6. The seats, in particular, were so bad that Chevy made an update midway through the 2012 model year. It's a somewhat unusual move to initiate such changes so close to the end of a model's life span. Keep in mind that these details were kept a secret until new photos made the rounds in September 2012 -- however, the interiors fitted to a test car aren't necessarily destined to make it to the production line. That said, several bloggers suggest the front seats might be heated and cooled -- take that for what it's worth.
The driver's controls will get a considerable refresh, in the form of a graphic tachometer in the front and center of an LCD instrument screen. (The other gauges will probably keep a more traditional style.) There are even suggestions of engine stop-start technology [source: Car and Driver].
All this is critical for the C7's success, according to GM. In fall of 2011, GM's global design chief, Ed Welburn, told Automotive News that the Corvette is an especially difficult car to redesign. Improvements need to be significant, but the car has to maintain its overall appeal and characteristic elements. In other words, it's got to be better than the last one, but it still needs to be instantly recognizable as a Corvette. This is a challenge, of course, for every carmaker that's refreshing a current model, but the average family sedan doesn't play a significant role in Detroit's muscle car history. But that's not enough for GM – the company really wants the Corvette to find a wider audience this time around, so all the C7 tweaks will be aimed at appealing to existing muscle car fans, and converting new, younger 'Vette drivers. Appealing to consumers' material instincts is obviously one such strategy, but muscle cars can't get by on looks alone.
The Athletic Training
You've already seen how the rumor mill can build a lot of buzz for an upcoming model, and as the street date draws near, the truth becomes clearer. With about a year to go, we're getting a better picture of the 2014 Corvette.
Rumors that are unlikely to come to pass? Some kind of forced-induction engine (boosted with a turbo or supercharger), all-wheel-drive and reincarnation of the Stingray moniker. That's, in part, wishful thinking of the auto media and its readers. Of course, Chevy's added some fuel to the fire, in the form of an interview in which the head of GM North America, Mark Reuss, has said the C7 will be "completely different" [source: Weiss].
So what do we think we know? The C7 is expected to have a better power-to-weight ratio, thanks to some serious trimming of body mass. Carbon fiber, a strong but lightweight material, is likely to help with this goal. It's common for car manufacturers to reserve such expensive touches to distinguish high-end models from base models, but experts suspect that all C7s will be graced with carbon fiber's distinctive look [source: Car and Driver].
The C7 might feature a new 7-speed manual transmission, but there's little corroboration to confirm this rumor ... and, along the same lines, there also might be an eight-speed auto trans option. There was early suspicion that the car would be redesigned to accommodate a mid-engine drivetrain, but spy photos show this won't be the case. So, for now, it's keeping the familiar front-engine layout, and, like the Camaro, it will stay rear-wheel-drive.
Which leads us, finally, to the engine options. The GM V-8 engines are built in five domestic factories, which, in the past couple of years, have benefitted from about a billion dollars' worth of upgrades. But even though the brighter, cleaner factories are reported to improve productivity and reliability, the engines themselves haven't really changed all that much. The C7 will get its characteristic small-block V-8 engine, which is likely to be downsized from the current 6.2 liters to a 5.5 or a 6.0. (Most sources say the block is likely to be a 5.5-liter, but a few have also suggested a 6.0 is possible.) The engine features Active Fuel Management Technology (cylinder shutdown to improve economy). It's been designed for direct injection and tuned for higher compression, though, which will allow it to keep pace with the current car's 430-horsepower output while featuring improved fuel efficiency. And this is just for the base model -- the higher-end options (currently designated the Z06 and ZR1) are likely to get big-block V-8s.
The engine configurations are currently shared with the Chevy Camaro, as well as the Cadillac and GMC truck families -- an arrangement that's likely to stay in place. A lot of the Corvette's shared mechanicals will also be adapted for the forthcoming Chevrolet SS sedan.
Just to demonstrate (again) our earlier point that buzz is essential? There's already speculation about model refreshes. Rumor has it that a new version of the LT4 drivetrain (currently available in some Camaros) will be available as an option in the 2015 model year. That would boost the C7 'Vette to mid-500-horsepower before it even has a chance to get old [source: Slu].
Author's Note: How the C7 Corvette Works
When the new Chevrolet Corvette actually hits showroom floors and the hype starts to calm down, something else will come along to take its place. It has to. That's how the automotive industry keeps churning along. And that's how the peripheral industries, like the automotive media, find a way to exist at all.
For a few precious years, I spent a lot of time around auto media types -- and when they weren't gossiping and infighting and backstabbing, they occasionally talked about cars. Some writers and editors were genuinely excited about the opportunity to drive a hot new model before the general population; others were either too burned out to care, or trying too hard to look badass. It happens.
But automotive media got hit hard by an ill-timed double whammy -- the decline of print journalism was under way as the domestic car industry faced its near collapse. There are still a handful of print magazines, and there are more blogs than ever. Considering how frequently bloggers have to post to stay on top of their readers' news feeds, it's clear that they really need the news cycles generated by new model release updates and rumors. Another group to consider is the spy photographers -- the shutterbugs who camp out in the well-known car testing haunts (often in the desert) hoping to score some clear shots of test mules doing their thing. Those photos are quickly sold and immediately end up splashed across blogs, setting off a whole new round of discussion.
- Car and Driver. "2013 Chevrolet Corvette (C7)." April 2011. (Oct. 4, 2012) http://www.caranddriver.com/features/2013-chevrolet-corvette-c7-feature
- Car and Driver. "2014 Chevrolet Corvette C7 Spy Photos." Sept. 24, 2012. (Oct. 4, 2012) http://www.caranddriver.com/news/2014-chevrolet-corvette-c7-spy-photos-future-cars
- General Motors. "Chevrolet Announces New SS Performance Sedan." May 17, 2012. (Oct. 10, 2012) https://media.gm.com/media/us/en/gm/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2012/May/0517_chevyss.html
- Ireson, Nelson. "2014 Corvette Production Prep Beginning at Bowling Green Plant." Motor Authority. Aug. 22, 2012. (Oct. 8, 2012) http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1078665_2014-corvette-production-prep-beginning-at-bowling-green-plant
- Johnson, Drew. "2014 Chevrolet Corvette C7 [Spied]." Left Lane News. Sept. 19, 2012. (Oct. 4, 2012) http://www.leftlanenews.com/chevrolet-corvette-c7.html
- Kranz, Rick. "The challenge of a 'Vette redesign: Don't screw it up." Automotive News. Sept. 13, 2011. (Oct. 11, 2012) http://www.autonews.com/article/20110913/BLOG06/110919919/1172
- Sanchez, Karla. "UPDATED: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Rendered, C7 Interior Spotted." Motor Trend. (Oct. 4, 2012) http://wot.motortrend.com/2014-chevrolet-corvette-rendered-c7-interior-spotted-263305.html
- Slu, Jason. "2014 Corvette C7 Details Leaked, LT4 Coming in 2015." Sept. 23, 2012. (Oct. 4, 2012) http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2012/09/2014-corvette-c7-details-leaked-lt4-coming-in-2015.html
- Weiss, Chris. "Welburn on C7 Corvette: Don't Be That Guy." Motor Authority. Sept. 22, 2011. (Oct. 10, 2012) http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1066440_welburn-on-c7-corvette-dont-be-that-guy