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Old 01-23-2013, 01:50 PM   #1
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What Do You Think?

Got this off another forum. Interesting read. Don't know if anyone else has seen this. I know the idea has been thrown out there in the past, but just curious, "what do you think"

THE AUTOEXTREMIST
January 23, 2013

Marketing the Corvette: What GM doesnít get.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 1/22, 5:30 p.m.) Detroit. Now that the smoke has cleared (somewhat) from the frenzy of the Detroit Auto Show Ė and the big bang debut of the new Corvette Ė itís time to take a hard look at Corvette from a brand image and marketing point of view.

As Iíve said repeatedly in this column, there are only two cars (and car names) in modern American automotive history that qualify as true icons in this business, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Ford Mustang. Around for 60 and 50 years, respectively, the Corvette and the Mustang transcend all others because of their evocative imagery and indisputable status as Americaís two brightest automotive lights. The true test? Even non-car people know what a Mustang and a Corvette are. Even more, they can conjure these two cars in their own historical image banks and can instantly remember an experience when they saw one for the first time or rode in one in their formative years.

But dealing with that kind of iconic status isnít easy for Ford and GM. Half the battle revolves around knowing what you have and understanding its place in the automotive universe. That might sound simple but believe me it isnít. Executives with Ė ahem Ė varying degrees of competence who have been given the marketing reins for these cars have come and gone over the years, and battles have ensued and mistakes have been made, but the ball more or less has kept moving forward for these two icons despite the occasional egregious missteps. It can't be overstated that it has taken tremendous effort by the True Believers involved in order to maintain the focused consistency that these nameplates deserve.

In Fordís case, the F-150 may be The Franchise, but the Mustang is the heart and soul of the company. And I can assure you that as much time is spent on not screwing it up or sending it down the wrong path as there is time spent on marketing the car. Or thinking about the next Mustang thatís in the works.

When you consider what the Mustang means to the Ford Motor Company, you can understand why Ford executives, members of the Ford family and employees throughout the company take the nameplate so seriously. And it's why you'll never see them phoning it in or treating the Mustang lightly or as an afterthought.

But of course at General Motors, we're talking a completely different situation with the Corvette. To be sure, to the True Believers within GM's product development and design functions, the Corvette is every bit as important as the Mustang is to Ford. To them the Corvette is the heart and soul of the company as well.

The difference between the two companies gets wildly pronounced when considering how upper management views the Corvette at GM. In the early years the Corvette was on the chop list more than once. Students of this industry are already familiar with the monumental battles between the True Believers like Harley Earl, Zora Duntov and Bill Mitchell, and the "suits" at GM who not only didn't get the car but couldn't be bothered one way or the other. That the Corvette has survived in the hostile environment created by the vacuous bean counter-driven "culture" - or at least what passes for one - at General Motors is a small miracle unto itself.

Were there bad years for the Corvette? Absolutely. The mid- to late-70s was an embarrassing period. (Same for the Mustang, as a matter of fact.) But the car survived that and even intermittently thrived. And in recent years, thanks to the committed engineers and designers - and the exceptional Corvette Racing program - Corvette is viewed with a notable measure of respect by competing manufacturers and enthusiast consumers alike.

And here we are today with a brand-spanking-new-generation Corvette, so things should be all right with the world, right? You would think so but despite all of the hoopla surrounding the new Corvette's launch, and all of the glowing words coming from within GM (Captain Queeg's comments not withstanding) and from the assembled media, the same black cloud hovers over the Corvette that has always been there.

And that ominous looking black cloud is one of indifference.

How can that be, you say? Everyone at the Detroit Show representing GM seemed to be switched on about the new Corvette, right? Yes, this is true. At least the people who matter within GM, that is. But the cloud of indifference I'm talking about is big and nasty and hangs in the air like a bad dream. And it's best exemplified by the prevailing attitude of GM upper management that ultimately the Corvette sells itself, and now that they've committed the funding for the development and launch of the C7, they can move on to other, more important things.

Let me amplify this cloud of indifference for you. When the Corvette Racing program started to deliver wins in the GT class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans over the last fourteen years, the wins were almost invisible except to the racing media and the enthusiast consumers who deemed it important. Why? Because it was like pulling teeth to get GM marketers to tout the accomplishments. Oh, you'd see an occasional race-win ad here or there, but nothing on the order of how a Chevrolet win in NASCAR is promoted.

Yes, it should be pointed out that recently GM has gotten better at image wrangling when it comes to the Corvette, but can you imagine what another manufacturer would do if they had an icon like the Corvette in their product portfolio? Can you imagine if it were a German auto company that owned the Corvette? Can you imagine how those racing wins at Le Mans would be used? I daresay you wouldn't be able to move without seeing or hearing mention of them.

And therein lies the point. Any other manufacturer would use the Corvette as the tip of its technological spear. A race win at Le Mans would mean an instant social media blast and double-truck newspaper spread ads in every major newspaper in the country. (And on the day after the race, too, not ten days later when the print media buy was more advantageous.) But to upper management at GM? Remember, the Corvette sells itself. The attitude can be distilled to this: why invest money in something that's a niche, something we don't sell that many of to begin with? I can't think of a more egregious example of people doing less with more in this business than what GM has done - or hasn't done - with Corvette. It's a complete travesty when it comes right down to it.

And, as if it needs to be pointed out, that is why, despite their protestations to the contrary, GM marketers not only don't get the Corvette, they don't even know where to begin to understand how to fix it. I would say that is a major problem. To have an iconic vehicle with the status of the Corvette and not know what to do with it is tantamount to being Porsche and not knowing how to market the 911.

So I'm going to lay out a marketing and product plan for the Corvette that would propel it at top speed into the pantheon of the elite sports cars in the world. No more "it's fantastic for the money" excuses. No more mismanagement or non-management decisions to hold the Corvette back. In short, a plan to properly - and finally - nurture one of the iconic cars in the world.

You can't get there from here.

I've heard the argument almost since the day I was born: "We put a little bit of Corvette in all of our Chevys." It's simple, lure them into the showroom with the Corvette, and sell them a (insert Chevy model name here). The idea that a halo car will sell your other products is as old of an axiom that there is in this business. But that axiom has clearly run its course when it comes to Corvette and Chevrolet. Especially now that Chevrolet is going global with a mixture of funky-fun small cars that have a completely different mission. What does Corvette have to do with Chevrolet when it really comes right down to it? Nostalgia? That doesn't count for much in this, the most competitive market in automotive history. Chevrolet should go ahead and chase its newly energized global mission with glee. But the Corvette deserves a higher plateau to aim for.

The first order of business?

Make Corvette a brand unto itself. Enough already with the familial resemblance to other Chevrolets that seems to be all of a sudden important on the C7 with its Camaro-esque taillights. It's silly and flat-out stupid when it comes right down to it. If GM can position Cadillac and Chevrolet as global bands, then the Corvette deserves to be a global brand too. The Europeans who flock to Le Mans aren't interested in Chevrolet anything, but they are interested in Corvette, and anything and everything to do with Corvette. You don't think that the Corvette as a stand-alone brand would have resonance globally? Think again. Just because the power of the Corvette name has been underutilized up until now, that doesn't mean it can't be polished into something much more.

The second order of business?

Besides relocating the Corvette brand headquarters as far away from GM's RenCen headquarters as I could get it, I would completely and thoroughly upend the Corvette product portfolio, from top to bottom. Instead of multiple variations of one Corvette, I would have three Corvettes. (I'd like to thank Josiah LaColla for his scintillating and imaginative illustrations, by the way) The new Corvette lineup would look like this:


1. The 2016 Corvette Stingray. Not to be confused with the current car, this will be the entry level Corvette that the non-boomers are clamoring for. And no, you won't find any reptilian nightmare design influences here either. Imagine a car with a footprint longer, wider and lower than the discontinued Solstice/Sky twins but with a fresh design that would harken back to the original Sting Ray (the name was two words back then), with Corvair Monza SS concept overtones. Available in a roadster only (that means no hardtop, removable or otherwise), this car would have a Twin-Turbo V6 with 375HP, 7-speed manual (only) gearbox, 50-50 weight distribution, a driving dynamic profile tuned to aggressive-fun and a target curb weight of 2,800 pounds. And round taillights, of course. Price? $39,995 base. And with minimal option packages available it would come in at $49,995, fully loaded.

The magnificent '59 Corvette Sting Ray was a stunning design statement in its time, and it still resonates with the Corvette faithful and automobile enthusiasts today.

The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray is still considered to be one of the all-time great American production cars.

The all-new 2014 Corvette.


2. The 2016 Corvette SS. This would be the newly-introduced C7 with about 25 percent of the overwrought and overdone surface detailing removed. A complete rethink of the side vents and associated detailing would be undertaken, moving the car away from its vaguely Nissan GT-R overtones and more in keeping with great Corvettes of the past. And the back end would be completely redesigned to include round taillights and a more subtle seductiveness, without compromising its GT racing mission. This would still be the mainstream Corvette, one that the Corvette faithful would be very happy with on a day-in, day-out basis.

3. The 2018 Corvette Chaparral. Yes, you read that correctly. The Corvette Chaparral. This is the car that the Corvette faithful have been clamoring to have for decades. This would be a clean-sheet, mid-engined Corvette for the ages, with Jim Hall's blessing, of course. This machine would boast every ounce of GM technological know-how plus every current and future trick in the book available. Carbon fiber chassis and body structure with the use of advanced technical materials throughout. Twin-Turbo, Direct-Injected 800HP LT1 V8 with hybrid assist and rear-biased all-wheel-drive. Ten-speed dual range sequential automatic. Extremely limited production cadence of 1000 vehicles over a 42-month build sequence. No excuses and no "what ifs." The Corvette Chaparral would have it all and then some. Price point? $175,000. Its stated mission beyond, of course, giving Corvette enthusiasts their ultimate fantasy? To kick Audi, BMW, McLaren and Porsche's ass at Le Mans and deliver the first overall win for an American manufacturer there since 1969.

This product portfolio would accomplish several things. First of all it would put to rest the undeliverable notion that one Corvette can be adjusted to skew younger. That's notgonnahappen. But you can do an entry-level Corvette that would address that idea elegantly and emotionally, while adhering to the legacy of one of the all-time great cars: the original '59 Sting Ray. Secondly, it would give the Corvette - now Corvette SS - some breathing room to be better. Abandoning some of the surface hand-wringing and cleaning up its overwrought details, its design presence would blossom and it would fulfill its role as the car that the Corvette aficionados would savor and relish for years to come. And finally, the Corvette Chaparral would put the new global brand Corvette on the map. A car that would be mentioned with the other super cars of the world as a matter of fact, not as a matter of surprise.

As I've stated previously, this image-wrangling business as it applies to automobiles is serious stuff. And when it is applied to iconic vehicles like the Corvette and the Mustang, the ramifications go up exponentially.

GM has mishandled and all but squandered the Corvette image for going on decades, and it would be comical if it weren't so pathetic and sad. The company overlords need to finally treat the Corvette properly. And that doesn't mean paying attention to it when it's time to do a new one, it means nurturing the brand Corvette on a daily if not hourly basis. It means using the brand as the tip of the technological spear for the entire company, not as a marketing afterthought that you only address when convenient or absolutely necessary.

Turning the Corvette into a global brand while removing it from its more mundane Chevrolet shackles is exactly what is needed, but it won't happen under Dan Akerson's watch. It's completely over his head and besides, he wouldn't understand the script even if it was pounded into him. He would of course understand the profitability potential, but remember, this is the guy who said the new Corvette is the most beautiful car GM has ever produced. It's fair to say he wouldn't know the second-best one.

But I personally know two high-level GM executives who know exactly what I'm talking about and who would sign up for this Corvette program in a second. It would require the kind of focused consistency Ė and serious cash Ė that GM has only dreamed of up until now, but I have tremendous confidence in the True Believers hard at work on the Corvette program that they could deliver this enhanced mission in spades.

The Corvette deserves better. Much better. Here's to the idea of a future for Corvette that exceeds even my most colorful imagination.

And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
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Old 01-23-2013, 02:20 PM   #2
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You can't argue with the idea that Chevy has underutilized the Corvette in it's marketing. But I'm not so sure I like the full blown plan. Little $40k Sting Ray? I don't see them selling enough to support the development. He compares it to Sky/Solstice that sold for 60% of that and failed after only a few years.

Then a $175k super car? I would LOVE to see that happen. But the development costs of a car of that nature would never be subsidized by the sale of 1000 cars at $175k. I don't think GM would ever spend that much to develop such a special interest car.

Basically, I think he has identified a real problem. I just think his solution is unrealistic.
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Old 01-23-2013, 02:50 PM   #3
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Interesting read and I agree that GM could market the corvette better but I agree with Tex that I don't think his 3 model corvette plan is feasible.
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Old 01-23-2013, 02:57 PM   #4
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I still want to know why people are soooo obsessed with TTV-6 and mid engine Corvettes
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Old 01-23-2013, 03:00 PM   #5
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I completely agree with the marketing. Corvette have won the 24hr of Le Mans 7 times and rarely do you hear about it. The general public, that doesn't follow that stuff certainly has no idea.
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Old 01-23-2013, 03:05 PM   #6
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I completely agree with the marketing. Corvette have won the 24hr of Le Mans 7 times and rarely do you hear about it. The general public, that doesn't follow that stuff certainly has no idea.
I was talking to a guy about the C7. He currently leases a BMW that he wants to get out of. I mentioned Corvette and he said he never considered it but asked about the specs. I gave him some info (450HP...competes and BEATS exotics on the track regularly...priced at ~$50-60K, etc). He lit up and said he definitely look into it....Point is he had NO idea.
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Old 01-23-2013, 04:19 PM   #7
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Basically, I think he has identified a real problem. I just think his solution is unrealistic.
Can't we dream a little?

I think he's right on the money.
GM has underutilized the Corvette for decades.
They want a younger buyer.
They need to keep the car affordable.

I beleive a lower budget,$35K-$45K sports car would sell like hot cakes, if it were designed correctly. A stripped down hot rod sports car with reasonable horsepower, but easily modded in the aftermarket. Of course, the Solstice was too small and too girly in appearance. It was doomed from the start.

A revamp of the current C7 for the REAL Vette Enthusiasts.


I agree the $150K super car would be a dream, but let me dream for a while.

I do believe the Corvette should be aligned similarly to Cadillac with multiple models and better marketing.
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Old 01-23-2013, 06:53 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Texdentist View Post
You can't argue with the idea that Chevy has underutilized the Corvette in it's marketing. But I'm not so sure I like the full blown plan. Little $40k Sting Ray? I don't see them selling enough to support the development. He compares it to Sky/Solstice that sold for 60% of that and failed after only a few years.

Then a $175k super car? I would LOVE to see that happen. But the development costs of a car of that nature would never be subsidized by the sale of 1000 cars at $175k. I don't think GM would ever spend that much to develop such a special interest car.

Basically, I think he has identified a real problem. I just think his solution is unrealistic.
GM doesn't market anything well. Name one car they have in the last 5 years?

This guy needs to understand what he's talking about. First he says that Corvette is an icon. I can agree with that, but then he says there are only 2 and the other is the Mustang? Ever heard of Camaro? I'm not taking anything away from the Vett but Camaro will push 3 years of comparable volume in 1. The car is also instantly recognized by just about everyone.

Next he's talking about making Corvette a brand. How (by his own words) do you turn an iconic car into a brand? Second it a well known fact that GM sucks at brand management. Can anyone tell what market Buick is aimed at verses Caddy? Where do Chevy trucks stop verses GMC? DO yourselves a favor, GM does NOT need more branding. GM needs to manage the products they have to their maximum potential. Until they can accomplish this additional brands are a disaster waiting to happen. Watch SRT, they will sell less vehicles than Chevy sell's Vetts and not turn decent profits while doing it.
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Old 01-23-2013, 07:12 PM   #9
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Aren't we really just talking a Boxster/Cayman, 911, Carrera GT product relationship, with each model coming in at price points under each of these cars? Interesting thoughts in the article though.

Every time I took my cars to the Chevy dealership for service I wished for Corvette to be its own brand.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:11 PM   #10
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I wouldn't mind the idea of promoting Corvette up to its own GM division/brand/line, or the idea of having very different Corvette models. But I'd make Stingray the mid-range model with the same front-mid rear-drive layout/mission and price point as today's Corvette lineup. Then I'd give the new entry-level and mid-engine vehicles new names like Corvette Chaparral. But as a life-long Corvette fan I would hate to see the traditional historical Corvette not live on in at least one of the models. And to me that would always be the "real" Corvette. Corvette is like the 911 - a classic that can live on forever, and I hope it does.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:33 PM   #11
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I wouldn't mind the idea of promoting Corvette up to its own GM division/brand/line, or the idea of having very different Corvette models. But I'd make Stingray the mid-range model with the same front-mid rear-drive layout/mission and price point as today's Corvette lineup. Then I'd give the new entry-level and mid-engine vehicles new names like Corvette Chaparral. But as a life-long Corvette fan I would hate to see the traditional historical Corvette not live on in at least one of the models. And to me that would always be the "real" Corvette. Corvette is like the 911 - a classic that can live on forever, and I hope it does.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:42 PM   #12
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Step One: Introduce Harlan Charles to the pavement. What does this guy do?
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:19 PM   #13
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Step One: Introduce Harlan Charles to the pavement. What does this guy do?
I believe I read he's the senior VP in charge of rubber grommet design.
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Old 01-23-2013, 10:58 PM   #14
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As a counter point, while the Corvette has recently won Le Mans a good amount of times. The Corvette is really something that you do not have to market a ton, Lamborghini doesn't have to run ads for its models and same goes for the Corvette. Everyone has heard the word Corvette and is some what familiar with what it is, honestly running a bunch of ads isn't going to help in that regard that much.

As far as marketing the successes of the Corvette, really 15 years ago it probably didn't make much sense. What pushes it more now then ever has to do with road racing seemingly becoming more popular. If you tell your average American that the Corvette got a class win at the 24 hours of Le Mans they would have a blank stare and ask what that is. The ad would really need to be more of an infomercial explaining the history and importance of that race. The win on sunday, sell on monday formula just has not worked in a long time.

Honestly I wouldn't say that GM shows an indifference toward the Corvette. The C6 got a lot of attention through out its product life cycle and the Corvette racing program continues to get funding even when GM was cutting back everything else.

Where the Corvette is important to GM is this, having a halo car doesn't really help the brand image out as much as some would like to think. However consider this, engineers need to be challenged on a regular basis (as well as designers). You do not get a challenge from building vehicles like the Toyota Camry, the Camry doesn't push anything. GM has learned a lot about mass control first with the Cadillac ATS and now with the C7 (even though they also added mass they also removed mass from everywhere). They had to push their skills and abilities as well as find new ways forward when engineering the C7. They will push themselves even further with the C7 Z06, had they not produced a C6 Z06, then a C6 ZR1, and a Grand Sport after that the C7 wouldn't be as good as its going to be.

Look at Toyota, they stopped producing sports/sporty cars and I feel that their engineering and design has suffered greatly for it. They had a Celica, Supra, MR2 and a few other cars at one time, they stopped producing all of that. Then they had to recall 10 million cars for unintended acceleration, after that they had to recall another 10 million cars for fire hazards. They have had some of the worse launches in recent history as far as quality goes. When this Tundra came out they had tail gates that buckled, tail gates that fell off, the 5.7L V-8 was snapping cam shafts. Now Toyota produces the Lexus LFA and the Scion FRS, I feel that this will better the entire breed.

GM has gotten as good at producing vehicles not only because they produce the Corvette. They also produce the CTS V, Camaro, and a few other vehicles since then. Before Ford was producing 2.0L turbocharged and direct injected I-4 engines GM produced the Cobalt SS turbo (2.0 260/260 launch control and no lift shift). This car for a time had the world record as fastest production FWD car at the ring (beat an Aston Martin V-8 while it was at it too).

Moral of the story, when car makers stop engineering cars that push their engineers then their engineers lose their edge. Same goes with all other aspect of car design and production, GM needs to continue to push itself.
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"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. " Aristotle
Old 01-23-2013, 11:32 PM   #15
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Interesting view - long read.

He made some good points and some that were - "whatever".

Frankly, I'm not a race fan (ala La Mans) - "whatever".

3 Tiers of the Vette - the C6 essentially had four with convertible variants at that. Ok, "whatever".

GM corporate -- I respect GM and the history behind GM, but I have always felt that most car companies look to make a good car and the highest profits possible as opposed to a great car with the highest profits possible. "whatever"

I most certainly DO like the notion of Corvette being its own brand and sold along side of Cadillac (for many reasons). Notice, the Viper is now not a "Dodge" but the performance division name (memory lapse here).

.... "whatever".... long read and I bet that guy doesn't even own a Vette!
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