General Motors unveils new 2014 Corvette Stingray in Detroit

Local 4's Guy Gordon given behind-the-scenes look

By Guy Gordon - Reporter/Anchor
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DETROIT - General Motors has unveiled the new 2014 Corvette Stingray at the Russell Bazaar Industrial Complex in Detroit for the 2013 North American International Auto Show.

Local 4's Guy Gordon was given a behind-the-scenes look at the new 2014 Corvette Stingray before it was unveiled on Sunday.

Here are some cold hard realities about the current Corvette. Last year, it barely sold 14,000 units—60% below its most recent peak in 2006. It's tired. The last re-design was nearly 10 years ago, making it ancient in the world of high-technology.

GM invested next to nothing in marketing the image of this iconic brand to the past two generations of Americans, now reaching the age when they might consider a Corvette. The result: The average buyer is as old as the brand itself: 60.

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Radical Departure

That's why the new 2014 Corvette Stingray is such a dramatic departure to the Corvette's of the past. GM doesn't need an evolution---it needs a revolution.

Purists will howl. This is not the curvy , full-bodied, legacy laden car they've come to know and love. This is a lean, mean, racing machine.

When I was given a private unveiling last Friday at GM's Heritage Center in Sterling Heights I was blown away. GM resisted the temptation to play it safe, to coddle its captive market, and chose instead—with every new line, vent, and lamp, to embrace radical over retro.

Congratulations. You may have just saved the great American sports car.

Tom Peters was on the team that re-designed the C-6 model and said the intent with C-7 was clear. It had to be clean-sheeted.

"When we set out to do this new Corvette Stingray, in my mind, I've had some experience with previous generations, and we felt it was really important to break the mold if you will.  To do something completely new and really push it hard," says Peters, a veteran GM designer.

That included messing with the automotive equivalent of Mona Lisa's smile.

They changed Corvette's iconic tail-lamps. The twin, round lamps dating back to the days when the Beach Boys were still learning to harmonize, are GONE! They are replaced by dual, rectangular LED lamps with integrated vents. Coming from behind, the less attentive may think they have a new Camaro in their sights.

Peters and his colleagues admit there were passionate discussions. In the end, they were still split 50-50. Why wipe away one of the car's most beloved design cues? Because new generations of potential buyers demanded it.

Peters explains, "I wanted to keep the dual element but really push it as far as we could to create a totally new signature but again recognizable as Corvette.  But if you're going to make a decision like that, it better be profound.  I think when you have a close look at it, you're going to be impressed and I think it has to be compelling enough to where it will become where Corvette's heading in the future. Don't go halfway, but make sure you do it in a way that is beautiful, that is exciting, that is intriguing."

Performance Driven

Give this car a DNA test and you'll find a closer like to the brand's racing program than past generations. Every surface is aerodynamically driven. The surface vents are anything but subtle. The grill is a gaping mouth for ram air cooling of the new 6.2L small block V-8 that will power this car. Rear and side vents are purpose driven as well to assist cooling of the differential and rear-mounted transmission.

Purists may long for the 7L of the past. But engineers insist this is the most powerful standard Corvette ever, with preliminary output of 450 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque. For the laymen---it's torque that pushes your butt back into the seat and gives you the adrenaline rush a sports car is supposed to give. Call it zip, pick-up, or pop, it is why we buy sports cars. GM promises 0-60 performance under 4 seconds. They have tuned the car to deliver torque below 4000 rpm comparable to the current 7.0L Corvette Z06.

Nevertheless, the new LT1 engine is expected to exceed 26 MPG Highway driving.

Lighter, Stronger

The hood, roof, dash, and other critical pieces are all designed of lightweight carbon fiber.

Chief engineer Tadge Jeuchter says GM's early embrace of composites will pay huge dividends in the new Stingray.

"Carbon fiber started in aerospace, racing cars, high-end bicycles," said Jeuchter. "It's a very premium material, it's as stiff as steel at 1/5 the weight.  It's also expensive.  We've been pioneers on Corvette, ever since the 2004 model year putting carbon fiber on the street.  It's been in our most expensive models, we've been driving the cost of carbon fiber down to the point where now we can offer it on the standard car in the hood to keep the weight off the front, and to drive weight to the rear wheels and off the roof to drive the center of gravity down and it also makes the roof easier to handle because you can take it off and put it in the back if you want open air driving."

Interior Upgrade

While purists may scream of blasphemy about the car's exterior, they'll shout, Halleluiah, when they see the car's interior.

When I sat in the car I couldn't believe the improvements in terms of the tactile experience. Even the plastic elements feel softer. The A-pillars are wrapped in faux suede. The stitching is precise. Leather accents abound. The dash is all carbon fiber, beautiful, lightweight, and adds to the sophistication of the cockpit.

Two 8" Hi-Def screens are key and vivid visual elements. They are the brightest available—to overcome the bright summer sun when you take the roof off.

A single knob mounted behind the gearshift controls a dozen different driving features and characteristics. You can fine-tune the car's performance for a variety of road and weather conditions with a twist and a poke.

Let It Be

I'll be the first to admit I was a bit ambivalent about many features and changes to the 2014 Stingray. My affair with the car began in 1966 when a neighbor drove me to school—the third passenger squeezed into the tiny hidey-hole that passed for storage. Can you imagine that in today's safety-obsessed world? I cried the cold January day in 1969 when it splintered into a million pieces in a slow-speed encounter with a lamppost.

But this is reality. My 20-year-old son would never put a Corvette on his aspirational radar. It's not relevant.

If we want this iconic brand to have a future, it needs to break with its past and be none too subtle about it.

So, like a new song, new flavor, or new artist, I'm going to give it 6 months before I pass judgment. I have a feeling a lot of these polarizing new features will grow on me. If I could get over the demise of pop-up headlamps, I can perhaps embrace the new tails. I'll give its creators the final word.

"Great designs are always somewhat polarizing.  In fact, really good designs take a while to grow on you 'til you know you absolutely love it and can't live without it.  So we stretched the envelope a little bit, but we really want to showcase to the world we've got the design, technology, and performance to compete with anybody," says Jeuchter.

Tom Peters offers no apologies: "I think you aren't doing your job as a designer if you aren't pushing things and making it a little uncomfortable out there.  But if it's done beautifully, it will prove out.  You can speak the same way relative to music or architecture or anything.  You gotta move it!"

And when this model is launched in a year, just watch it move.

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