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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Automobile Magazine: What's your official title?

Dave Hill: I'm the vehicle line executive for GM's performance cars and I'm also the Corvette chief engineer.

Automobile Magazine: So that includes XLR.

Dave Hill: We're doing the XLR and the Corvette; they're our present new programs.

Automobile Magazine: What makes a Corvette a Corvette?

Dave Hill: It's really kind of proud that we're here at the conclusion of 50 years when we've been making this car better and truer to its mission as America's performance icon. I'm very proud that GM has stuck with this car and continued to improve it and move it from America's sports car to a real world-class effort.

I think that the three things that combine to make a Corvette very special and not matched by any other car is passionate American design: When you look at a Corvette—it doesn't matter which of the 50 years—it's got soul, it's got passion, it's got style. It's been especially true when we're celebrating these 50 years and sometimes we see all 50 years together in one venue that every year of the Corvette has had this passionate American design where you can tell the people who lavished their care on it really were out to create something that's very special and stood for America's love for cars.

The second thing is that Corvettes have always stood for state-of-the-art performance technology. And not technology just for its own sake, but tech to go fast and be safe and no matter what year of the Corvette you'll find it was trying to be right out there on the edge in terms of go-fast tech, And that makes it worth its reason for being.

And then I think the third real compelling thing is great value. Many people can own and many people can aspire to own it. A Corvette is a really aspirational vehicle. We've got customers who can afford to buy anything that's out there and we've got other customers for whom a new Corvette is maybe the reward for a lifetime of striving and trying to succeed. So Corvette is a realizable dream for people and a really important part of what we do is to deliver great value in the car.

Automobile Magazine: You said something really interesting back there. The Corvette has gone from an American icon to the world-beating proposition of value and performance. I know there was some talk at GM—after C4—about killing the car off because its volume was so low and for a host of other reasons. Did you guys sell C5 by positioning it as an international sports car?

Dave Hill: No, not really. But what we had to do in order to win the concept's approval from the North American strategy board—back in '93 when things were pretty darn grim—we had to show that we could basically reinvent the Corvette and make it a successful business. They had to have some faith that if we would do so, we would get more customers. And sure enough, we got at least 50 percent more customers with this car than with the prior car. It was an act of faith to some extent on the part of Jack Smith. But [the Corvette] was not to become an international marque as much as it was to, y'know we had to do a lot of things about the business to get it to be a success. In the past, it really wasn't. We weren't selling enough cars. Today, it's very successful and we're enjoying an excellent market share, and selling more cars overseas in the bargain.

Automobile Magazine: There's a quantum leap between the C4 and the C5, especially the Z06. What do you think contributed to the C4's decline and flagging popularity and what do you think has made the C5 such s success, over and above the normal Corvette attributes?

Dave Hill: Well, I wouldn't call the C4 a disappointment in the sense that it had to last 13 years, which is a huge amount of time in this end of the business where newness is what the segment thrives on. The C4 not only lasted 13 years but it sent some Pacific Rim vehicles back outside of our borders because during the lifetime of the C4, Toyota, Mazda, and Nissan pulled out of the segment. So that was all done with the C4. It was no slouch, but I would say there are some fundamentals about the C5 that are better. It uses space very effectively. One thing people love about the C5 is that big American people, with all the stuff that they carry with them when they go on a holiday, can fit inside the Corvette—even the convertible. That was one big deal. Another one was the structural integrity that we put into the car. It has a patented structure not shared with any[other car], which gives it a very strong, rigid feel about the body structure, even when the top is down or removed. That makes [the C5] feel much more substantial than Corvettes past.

Automobile Magazine: That's the balsa wood X-frame?

Dave Hill: It has this hydroformed perimeter frame, which goes from one end of the car to the other, one piece of steel hydroformed into the outside frame rail shape. And then it has an enclosed space in the middle of the car that resists the twist that's the nemesis of open cars. That structure together is patented. And it really is very stiff and very light. It not only feels more substantial, but it goes better because it's a lighter car than the C4.

Automobile Magazine: My favorite era of the car was '63 to '67, and I think the C5 is better and more rewarding in a lot of ways than even those. What is your favorite era?

Dave Hill: Well, I have to tell you that the new one we're working on now that'll debut in '05, is my hands-down favorite, because I'm always living in the future. If I had to live in the past, I would join you and say that those mid-year cars—the '63 through '67—they really had it all in terms of passionate design. Very good tech for the time. They were unique and they had good human accommodations. I find so many people who like the mid-year cars, then they didn't like the Corvette as much, or were forced out of the Corvette by size and then they came back as a C5 owner and they're in love with the car again. Actually the mid-year was the high-point, in our history, that was a very strong time for the car. And we're back to another very strong time. The men and women of Team Corvette are doing their utmost to make this 50th year the best year we've ever had and so far the measurables are turning out pretty good. We're at a 32 percent market share right now, which is very good for us because previously we've been capacity-constrained and couldn't make enough and now the business is off a little bit with 9/11, and we're more able to keep up with demand but the 32 percent market share is quite excellent. It's pulling upward of GM's share ambitions and the quality is the other thing. That's one of the things of which we're very very proud: that the JD Power IQS has rated the Corvette best in the premium sports-car category two years in a row. And we've actually widened the gap with the cars in our segment. And that makes us very proud, because we've got excellent competitors from Germany and Japan. But for the second year in a row—and by statistically significant margin—the Corvette is the best and we're working on cars today that are even better than the car that won those awards last year. I think it's irrefutable now that the Corvette really does have world-class quality and is producing a more trouble-free car than the cars from the best manufacturers elsewhere in the world.

Automobile Magazine: How is the C6 going to improve on the C5?

Dave Hill: It was a real daunting challenge, I gotta' tell you. We said, "How are we going to create the replacement for this thing because we've put everything that we possibly could put into it when it was new in '97, and we've never stopped improving it year after year." And most everybody who's got one is really in love with it. What we're going to do is make it like the C5 except more so. More passionate design, more performance, just as much room on the inside and maybe a little tidier on the outside. And we're going to take care of every last thing that we've heard of that people find that they're not totally satisfied with. We believe that we know that list backwards and forwards and we're going to eliminate everything that is not totally satisfying in the C5.

Automobile Magazine: Does that mean interior?

Dave Hill: We have a lot of concentration on the interior, which when we brought out the C5 we moved the Corvette interior from arguably the worst-in-class human factors and we got it to be the best-in-class human factors for its day when it came out in '97. But the bar is really being raised on interior richness and perfection and we know that's an area where the C6 is gonna have a big step forward: in a classier, more worthy, more perfect, richer, warmer, and more inviting interior. So there is a lot of concentration on the interior, not that we have to fix the space, which is about ideal on the car, but we're gonna try to upgrade the worthiness of the interior and we're quite satisfied with how that's coming along.

Automobile Magazine: Which manufacturers do you respect in terms of interior quality?

Dave Hill: I would say that on a value basis Audi would be leading the race to finer and finer interiors. However, I don't think the TT is particularly handsome right in our sports-car class. I think when you look at the portfolio of Audi products, they're delivering top results at their price point. And everybody's chasing after them. I'd say they're the best.
 
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