by Hib Halverson
Imagery by GM Communications, Richard Prince, U.S. Air Force and Sharkcom
©2005 Shark Communications
No use without permission
As has been the custom for some of my recent Corvette articles, I let Vehicle Line Executive and Chief Engineer, David Hill have (almost) the last word. CAC had an interview with Chief Hill by telephone on July 23rd. Some of the questions for this interview were submitted by Corvette Action Center forum members and edited by the author. Those questions are in bold type.
CAC: What were the goals of the C6 Development?
David Hill: First: Have the very best car in the segment regardless of price.
Second: To annihilate the compromises previously necessary-the little tradeoffs you have to do to have a performance car-and that includes things we we're previously satisfied with such as: a car with fantastic tires and suspension that is going to have road noise.
Three: Exceed expectations of present owners but, also, be able to capture new owners. When I say, 'new owners,' I don't mean just people who are driving an import, today, but young people who maybe coming to buy a fine car sometime in the future. We want to appeal more to people who may own imports, today, and more to youth but-we don't want to do anything bad for our present owners.
Four: Be able to offer more car per dollar and to drive our entry price down lower, to be able to be even more competitive with the Nissans and the Mazdas of the world.
CAC: When you learned Design Staff was considering fixed headlamps, what was your take on the idea?
DH: Design was very much for new headlamps because they wanted: a racecar cue, to be new and modern, to distance the car from the Corvettes of the 20th Century and to put more of a face on the car.
Back when they covered up the lights, headlamps were so generic-every car had the same two or four (round light) design. Today, headlamps are a style element and (designers) like that style element because it enables them to put beauty into the appearance of the car.
Engineering wanted to upgrade to very competitive lighting performance which ya oughta have in a car that can go fast. We wanted to be able to package high-intensity discharge lamps which are longer than sealed beams and halogens. At the same time, we wanted to reduce the front overhang which took away packaging space needed for long projector lamps (when retracted). This all precluded these lamps being in a moveable device.
We, also, wanted to reduce mass, improve reliability, and improve the quality appearance because, with the pop-ups, we had a lot of fussy parts to fit and have the gaps be perfect under today's standards.
There were definitely marketing and Chevrolet concerns about breaking with the winning tradition. When the decision was to made, the split was about equal, with half of the organization feeling it was a definite wrong thing to do and the other half thinking it was a definite right thing to do; so the VLE ?(Hill himself) made the call.
I give the organization credit because, once that call was made, everybody got on-board and worked to make it the best possible headlamp design. We tried a number of things that were distinctly different than the old pop-ups, before we settled on what we have.
CAC: What was your initial reaction before the different parties stated their cases?
DH: I was an advocate for the engineering side just because of the technology and being able to breakout from constraints which we had before.
CAC: With everybody split 50/50, what was the thing that pushed you over the fence?
DH: My tiebreaker on Corvette is always: when it's technically better for performance, it's the way to go.
CAC: What was your initial reaction to Design Staff's incorporation of significant elements of C2's shape into the C6?
DH: I despise retro.
I think retro designs show that you've run out of ideas. However, I do strongly support showing respect for your history and your lineage, especially if you're a proud marque, but you've got to do it in a way that's not overstated.
Some of the Stingray elements were dysfunctional and I opposed those. Other Stingray elements are very dramatic, distinctive and ownable as a Corvette cue and I supported those.
I think everybody worked hand-in-hand to achieve these cues from our heritage but make them modern and appropriate for a 21st. Century automobile. Engineering had to work hard to support what Design wanted to do because it's very difficult to shorten the car, make the aero better and make it crash (test) better. Design worked really hard to avoid the dysfunctional elements of the Stingray design. You know what they were-some had bad aerodynamic lift, terrible visibility and, in the case of the C3, terrible roominess.
I feel we got just the right amount of heritage in an extremely modern design. I think, like the '63-'67, it's so right that it's going to last forever, but unlike the '63-'67; this one's technically right, too.
CAC: What were the two most significant engineering challenges of the C6 program.
DH: One was to add performance, comfort, quality and features while, at the same time, reducing mass. Now, we didn't reduce the mass a whole lot because, where we got reductions, we spent them, again, on making other things better. For example, we got rid of the AIR pump but we spent that mass on trunk acoustics. So the challenge was making all these things better but not making the car heavier.
The other was helping styling get all the "wows" they wanted and marketing get all the features that they wanted, while at the same time getting better quality reliability and performance. There's a lot of things in the C6 (bodywork) which are more difficult to manufacture than the C5. Those dips, lines, peaks and bulges-they go across one panel to the next and they make the car sensational. They're challenging to the body engineering and manufacturing folks but we said, 'Hey, we've got to do it because this car is so fantastic looking.'
So the first was getting everything we wanted and reducing mass. The second is getting all the design wows while improving quality and performance.
CAC: What impact did Bob Lutz have on C6 engineering.
DH: This business about Bob not being satisfied and wanting to restyle the car is all hearsay and it never happened.
Bob helped us with our upgrade of the interior and get it to what we hope will be judged-after people size-up the new Porsche-as best in segment, and at least, greatly improved over the C5.
Bob demands excellence from the organization and he is sensitive to the nuances of interior perfection, refinement and richness-he can really see those things. When he tells people, 'Yeah you've got to do it this way because it's better.' that helps us get what we want, so Bob was a big help on perfecting the interior.
When he got into a Beta car on the ride-and-handling loop, he drove it very aggressively, and demandingly, then pronounced it 'fantastic'.
CAC: In terms of engineering, what are Mr. Lutz's desires for the future of the Corvette?
DH: I think he wants us to grow our technical superiority over the rivals, to be better than Porsche when it comes to high-speed handling and performance. I think, when it comes to the Z06, he wants us to be better than Viper for overall performance. Bob has been a very strong force-and Brent Dewar (Chevrolet General Manager) is another very strong force-in using the Corvette glow to cast a brighter image on the rest of the GM products. Corvette being the flagship of the American Revolution is working really neat.
CAC: That's a pretty cool ad campaign.
DH: Yep. It is. Brent is so enthusiastic about the Corvette. Jim Perkins (famed Chevrolet General Manager of the mid-90s) was that way and it's been a long time since Jim Perkins, so I'm so delighted to be bringing this car to market with Brent Dewar as General Manager. He's a real Corvette fan. He went to the first race for the C5-Rs this year at Sebring and, 12-hours later, he was there cheering them on at the finish, so he's our kind of a Chevy General Manager.
CAC: Was there a significant feature you wanted for C6 that did not make production?
DH: We went out to annihilate every dissatisfier. We had a list of things that were possible dissatisfiers, even after perfecting C5 for eight years. We really waxed that list. I'm not going to share that list with you. That's our list but, um...getting rid of gear rattle, entirely, was on it.
There's three different types of gear rattle, neutral, shutdown and driveaway. We had some hardware that was going to get rid of all three but and we decided to reverse one of them, because the solution was costing too much acceleration. That was a dual-mass clutch and it would have eliminated all of the driveaway rattle but it would have cost us 2/10ths sec. in 0-60. We said, 'Even for driveaway gear rattle, that's too much of a performance price to pay because it was a significant amount of what we gained with the 400hp.' So we eliminated the neutral gear rattle, the shutdown gear rattle and got more than half of the driveaway gear rattle. That is the only thing that I wanted to get that I didn't.
CAC: Some in the Corvette community want the car to branch into a wider selection of models, including an expensive, ultrahigh performance, "beyond-Z06", super-Vette. Is there a market for that? If so, what do you think is an appropriate price for it?
DH: Most important to us is to have a real successful core business. We never want to get to the brink of distinction, again. That core business is Coupe, Convertible and Z06. The Z06 didn't used to be in our core business, but it's become a very important part of it. Right now, we're not diverting much attention away from that core business.
We are doing some spreading because we've improved the coupe's affordability. The 2005, entry-level coupe is more car for less money. Also, the Z51 option on coupe and convertible offers almost-Z06 ride-and-handling dynamics for a very affordable price. We are spreading the coupe and convertible farther than they were spread before.
When we get to the Z06, it's going to have more performance and more appearance differentiation from the other cars. It's going to be more expensive, admittedly, but it's going to be a terrific value in comparison to anything else you can buy, including Porsche Turbo, Viper and the Ford GT.
We are including a lot of C5-R technical findings into the Z06. When people get a chance to see this car at the North American International Auto Show (at Detroit) in January, I think they're going to be really surprised at how much we've been able to do with the Z06. By the time 2006 comes, when you look all the way from a entry-coupe to a Z06, we are definitely offering a broader range of cars, but they'll all be very Corvette-like.
A fourth model is a twinkle in our eye. We never stop dreaming and scheming, so we're studying some things, but it really would be foolish to move into the stratosphere. When you look at cars priced between a hundred-and-fifty and four hundred thousand, there's a lot of cars chasing a relatively few multimillionaires and, uh...it would be foolish to endanger the Corvette marque by making a car there. We have a fantastic following for the things we are good at. If we ever do a fourth model, it's got to be adding prestige to the other Corvettes and not detract at all, so we're scheming; but we don't have any approval to do anything.
CAC: Do you think an appropriate price of the next Z06 is about that of the old ZR-1 , anywhere from fifty-nine to sixty-eight thousand, depending on model year?
DH: Well, I'm not going to talk about the Z06 price because it's anything but finalized. I think the ZR-1 program had a debatable outcome because it was a lot of money and many elements of the car were not appropriate for the price being charged. Consequently, it had a rush of following, but didn't have lasting value. I think we learned a few lessons, there. I don't want to knock the ZR-1s. They were fantastic Corvettes but...
CAC: They were in their day.
DH: Yeah, they were, ah-but I'm not going to say anything about Z06 pricing until the North American Auto Show and that's at the earliest.
CAC: With respect to all the publicity about hybrid powertrains and alternative fuels: where do you see the mid-term and long-term future of Corvette's powertrain heading in order to meet emissions and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards?
DH: We want to meet and exceed the operating cost expectations of our customers. I don't think we have any environmental bandwagon to be on or carry any green banner for General Motors. We've got other vehicles which are doing that.
GM is trying to do a responsible thing with the big consumers (of fuel) like sports utilities, mass transit and other, heavy vehicles because we're going to be able to make a greater impact on the global situation with that. In Europe, we're going to be very progressive with Opel and Saab on diesels, advanced propulsion and hybrids, so Corvette doesn't have to be the green banner carrier for GM.
That said, we do need to exceed our customers' expectations, so if fuel costs go up or if gas guzzler taxes rise, then we're going to put more of our available resources into fuel efficient technologies. We can do that if it becomes necessary, but it is really important to never let the, next Corvette be slower than the last Corvette.
When that happens, the value of the brand goes down. We must remember that we're a performance automobile. People love the fact that Corvettes are surprisingly fuel efficient and we're always going to use aero, great engine design, great transmission design and great tire engineering to keep them that way, but we don't want to degrade the performance of the Corvette in any way.
There are technologies which could come out of the GM portfolio and be put on the street, like Displacement on Demand, direct injection, multispeed transmissions with flexible shift schedules, so there's a lot of things that we can do, short of going to hybrids, and you know, hybrids are even a possibility, as well, but, uh...we feel we're going to have a steady following so long as we meet and exceed people's needs for operating expense. We make a very credible, fuel efficient car and we're going to keep doing that.
CAC: With respect to the near term, I've heard a few months ago that DoD would not be used on the Corvette due to a noise and vibes issue. Are you still working on DoD or has it been rejected.
DH: We took it out of the program for 2005 and we're not active with it at this time. Ah, I've got a call coming in and we're at the end of our time.
CAC: Ok, we're done. Thank you, David.
DH: Thank you for the opportunity to talk to the Corvette Action Center.
There are a few-very few-exotic cars that offer better performance than the 2005 Chevrolet Corvette but there are damn few-maybe none at all right now-which offer the combination of stunning performance and refined driving experience the C6 has at such a reasonable price. There's no question that when it comes to value, the C6 carries on the trend begun with the C5 and that is...Chevrolet's domination of the high-sports market segment.
Welcome to Cee Freakin' Six, people! It's going to be one hell of a ride. But, if it still ain't enough...just wait a year for the '06 Z06.
The Corvette Action Center would like to thank Jordan Lee, Mike Neal, David Hill and Tony Rifici of Team Corvette; Tom Peters of GM Design Staff; Bill Zabritski of GM Powertrain; Randy Fox and Wendy Clark of GM Communications; Larry Jansen, Nick Hill and Jim Davis of Goodyear. All of these people rendered special assistance to the Corvette Action Center during the preparation of this article.