The Corvette in a high-mileage future
The Corvette in a high-mileage future
New fuel economy rules won't kill the performance car, chief engineer says, but the 'Vette will need to adapt.
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer
January 7 2008: 12:40 PM EST
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Tadge Juechter, General Motors' chief engineer for the Chevrolet Corvette, wants to set one thing straight: the Corvette is here to stay.
Last month, Chevy introduced the Corvette ZR1 , an ultra-high-performance Corvette with an expected power output of 620 horsepower. At the introduction, Juechter said, Juechter made statements that were taken out of context in some media reports. The news stories, he said, made it sound as if the Corvette itself might be forced to extinction by new fuel economy regulations.
"It's my job to make sure that Corvettes do not go away," he told CNNMoney.com in an interview recently.
New legislation requires a nationwide new car fuel economy average of 35 miles per gallon by 2010. That means the Corvette will have to change, Juechter said. It won't have to get 35 miles per gallon, of course, but it will have to do its part to raise the average.
The challenge will be to make sure needed changes don't damage the image of a car that's important to its legions of fans and to GM's corporate image.
Revealed: Corvette ZR1
The Corvette has been a performance flagship for GM (GM, Fortune 500) since its introduction in 1953. It's also been a value flagship for the Chevrolet brand with performance that matches European sports cars costing twice as much.
Juechter's task will be maintain both sides of the Corvette's brand promise - high performance and low price - while also dealing with the increased fuel economy requirements.
It won't be easy because the Corvette is already a closet fuel-efficiency freak. A high-performance sports car that puts out 430 horsepower from a 6.2 liter V8 engine, the 'Vette's estimated highway fuel economy of 26 mpg is actually better than some 4-cylinder sports cars including the Pontiac Solstice and Honda S2000.
Corvette engineers could simply cut back on all that engine power. Packing 430 horsepower - a number bumped up from 400 in just the last model year - the 'Vette would seem to have some to spare. But a horsepower cutback would be an absolute last resort, Juechter said, something he would accept "kicking and screaming."
If power had to be cut back, engineers would find ways to lighten the car even more, he said, preserving the all-important power-to-weight ratio.
"We expect that we will be able to continue to improve performance," Juechter said.
Reducing weight could mean increased use of lighter materials like aluminum, special alloys and composites and even carbon fiber, which has a large role in the ZR1 super 'Vette.
Those materials are expensive, though, which threatens to undermine that other key Corvette appeal - its price.
"How do you do that at a reasonable cost that our customers will understand?" Juechter asked.
The new ZR1 also uses supercharging, a system that pumps air into the engine's cylinders to create higher pressure. That will allow the it to get nearly 200 more horsepower out of the same-sized engine used in the base Corvette.
You might think a similar solution could be used on a smaller, more fuel efficient engine to match the, or even beat, the power output of the current base Corvette's V8. Perhaps a future Corvette could pack a V6 under the hood.
Not so fast, said Juechter.
First of all, superchargers are heavy and use significant engine power to run. Turbochargers, which use turbines spun by exhaust gases, are lighter and sap less power, but they're still complex and costly.
Plus, turbochargers take a moment to respond to a push on the gas pedal - a phenomenon known as "turbo lag" - and that's not something drivers want on a race track, Juechter said, where many Corvette owners like to run their cars.
Besides, the Corvette's big V8 engine makes sense for cost reasons, according to Juechter, since its basic design is shared with many GM trucks. And Corvette owners simply expect a V8 so, while he won't rule out eventually using a V6 engine, that decision would require some very serious economic and performance justification. It would not go down easily with the Corvette faithful.
In the end, the solution to the Corvette fuel economy puzzle may have to involve trade-offs between performance and price to meet the needs of greater efficiency. In the end, Corvette buyers may have to accept that a more fuel-efficient sports car will cost a little more.
One thing you probably won't see for a long time, said Juechter, will be another beast as extreme as the ZR1. GM engineers will be occupied with more mundane tasks, like how to squeeze more mileage out of family cars and crossover SUVs.
"I doubt many manufacturers are scratching their heads trying to think up ways to do more 600 horsepower cars" he said.
In the meanwhile, Juechter says he'll make sure the Corvette itself doesn't become too tame.
Isn't the new CAFE mileage requirement of 35 MPG mandated to take effect by 2020, and not 2010 as stated in the above report?
From Wikipedia's explanation of CAFE standards:
"In late 2007, CAFE standards received their first overhaul in more than 30 years. On December 19, President Bush signed into law the Clean Energy Act of 2007, which requires in part that automakers boost fleetwide gas milage to 35 mpg by the year 2020. This requirement applies to all passenger automobiles, including 'light trucks.'"
This error was made by the CNN reporter -- not Tadge Juechter.
The actual time frame allowed for manufacturers to meet the new standard is well over a decade.
This is an important issue impacting all Corvette owners. Corvettes are envied by many people and often a target of those meddlers who want to control and restrict other people's freedoms and enjoyment.
It is too important to allow CNN's error to propagate and spread.
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