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Rob
12-19-07, 09:21 PM
GM's New Corvette Flexes an Old Muscle (Car)

Enthusiasts Gear Up For Costly Coupe With 600 Horses

By JOHN D. STOLL and TERRY KOSDROSKY
December 20, 2007

After developing hybrids and promoting green-technology initiatives, General Motors Corp. is set to headline the North American International Auto Show in Detroit with a car that will be among the most powerful and expensive it has ever sold.

Building on Chevrolet's muscle-car heritage and cachet with affluent car enthusiasts, GM will introduce its highly anticipated Corvette ZR1 coupe at the show. The car, with only a handful allotted to the Detroit company's thousands of Chevy dealers, will come with a supercharged, 600-horsepower engine and a price tag likely to exceed $100,000.

GM's ZR1 is expected to be a highlight at the gathering. Several auto makers are planning to show off high-horsepower vehicles that offer consumers a lot of juice and, in many cases, less-than-optimal fuel-economy numbers. Some of the ZR1's competitors -- such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis -- get about 10 miles a gallon, or one-third of what is considered ideal.

While GM promises the ZR1 will be loaded with the latest in technology, it is a stark representation of the quickly fading glory days of the U.S. car industry. As lawmakers increase efforts to force auto makers into building more fuel-efficient automobiles, GM executives admit the day of the American muscle car may be numbered.

"High-performance cars like this may be legislated out of existence," Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter said. Chevrolet is rushing to meet the demand for such vehicles, which commonly return hefty margins to their makers.

"The vehicle is a tremendous value," said Ken Ligenfelter, a multimillionaire car collector from Brighton, Mich. Mr. Ligenfelter, the 54-year-old president of Metropolitan Motor Sports, owns more than 100 rare and exotic automobiles, including dozens of Corvettes. He has ordered at least two ZR1s.

Some of the high-end European exotics, including cars made by Ferrari SpA and Automobili-Lamborghini Holding SpA, have higher prices. A Lamborghini Murcielago LP645 costs $340,000.

Despite the Corvette's high price tag, Wisconsin Chevrolet dealer John Bergstrom insists it will be a hit, saying he has about exponentially more people saying they want the vehicle than will get a chance to buy one.

"The real important thing is this car can be had for half or sometimes a third of the price" of its competition, Mr. Ligenfelter said.

GM is pulling the ZR1 brand out of its recent-history book, borrowing it from a special-edition Corvette that was sold in the 1990s but offered far less power. One of the features that is expected to set the ZR1 apart is carbon-fiber body panels that the company guarantees will last a lifetime. The carbon fiber is lathered with a clear coating that costs about $2,000 a gallon because of a rare additive.

GM will likely build about 2,000 ZR1s annually in an effort to maintain exclusivity. Besides the ZR1, which goes on sale later in 2008, Chevrolet sells other versions of the car for base prices between $46,000 and $71,000.

Write to John D. Stoll at john.stoll@dowjones.com and Terry Kosdrosky at terry.kosdrosky@dowjones.com