Power. Passion. Precision. Three words that define the sixth generation of an American performance icon -- the 2005 Corvette. Over the course of the next six months, Chevylaunch.com will sit down with key individuals from the Corvette team to talk about their roles in creating the most perfect Corvette ever. This month, we sat down with Dave Hill, chief engineer of the Corvette, to talk about his launch experiences and the overall development of the vehicle.
CL: You led the development of the landmark "C5" Corvette, launched in 1997. How do your experiences during the creation of the 2005 Corvette compare to that launch?
David Hill: The fifth generation was an enormous task because it was a completely new invention from the ground up. It was a total revolutionary change for the Corvette, and we couldn't use anything from the past. So it was very demanding and very daunting to get it all done. With the sixth generation, there's less new invention and more working on excellence. We're now building from a very sound platform -- that of the previous generation, and because of that we have the opportunity to concentrate on achieving excellence. The team feels reinforced by the fact that we're starting from something that's very good already, and we believe people will find that we've made it substantially better.
CL: Describe the enthusiasm of your team for Corvette.
David Hill: I think that being involved with the Corvette brings out the best in all of us who have the privilege of working on it. It represents the best that GM has to offer, along with the best America has to offer, to a lot of people. And since it is such an icon now, the Corvette causes us to rise to a higher level in everything we do. Our customer interaction also plays a role in our enthusiasm. And I feel that customer contact, and knowing what we do means so much to the customer, drives us to try to make everything we do exceed their expectations. The Corvette is very personal. We're not talking about transportation here -- we're talking about a product that changes someone's lifestyle, and that causes us to be enthusiastic about our duty.
CL: The fifth generation was a very successful vehicle, yet you improved upon it with the new vehicle. How did you identify areas of improvement?
David Hill: We upgraded the fifth-generation Corvette almost every year since it came out in 1997, and yet, with a chance to do the next new one, we knew we had to find ways to really jump ahead. That's what people expect us to do. That being said, the first major area of improvement is in technical awareness -- bringing to reality in 2005 something that would give us a technical jump forward. And as much as design is important to the Corvette success, we feel that if the vehicle is technically advanced over its predecessor, it's going to make the total Corvette something worthy of a new generation. Secondly, I again bring in customer contact -- knowing how they use their car and having a keen awareness of where our shortcomings are. We're never satisfied with our previous best. We love every Corvette -- the 2001 Z06, the 2003 Anniversary Car -- and we put the very best that we can into each one of them. But at the same time we technical types are very judgmental. We no sooner bring it out and we're dissatisfied with it and want to be on to the next. Again, we're trying to jump ahead with a car that's distinctly better than the car being replaced. People can only see the car now. But when they interact with it -- when they drive it, when they use it -- I think the appreciation for the new car will be very satisfying.
CL: What are some specific areas of the vehicle that have been improved over the fifth generation?
David Hill: Performance would be number one, obviously. We talk a lot about refinement and perfection when we talk about the sixth generation, but you must have performance to make the whole thing work. This vehicle has total performance -- not just acceleration performance, but braking and handling performance as well. It's the kind of performance that makes you believe that you can take it out on a race course and turn very good lap times, yet also be very easy to drive. Quietness is another area of improvement. Ridding unwanted noises and bothersome fatiguing noises from inside the car is a big part of the value of the sixth generation. It's been difficult because we don't want to make the car heavy or boring, but it was important to reduce the noise in the car -- especially the road noise from the big tires and the wind noise from the high-speed driving. This new quietness upgrades the worthiness of the car, and how the customer feels about the value in the car, so it was a big factor. Perfection in every little detail and great workmanship is a third major area where we feel we''ve made distinct improvements. Then there are a lot of features in the car which are entertaining and useful and add value to the car, such as the navigation system. People are going to enjoy that in the way they like using the car. If they just want to turn right and go down that winding road just because it looks cool, they can and they have the navigation to help them find their way back. Features like the navigation system are going to increase the total Corvette ownership experience.
CL: How important is it to know your customers and to understand what they're looking for with the Corvette?
David Hill: We always try to get as much information out of customers as we can during our interaction with them. And usually that means taking compliments about how much they appreciate what we do. But we also try to discover how they use the car, what the car does well for them and what could be improved. We try to understand how they think, how they feel and what the car means to them. And I think there are enough of us on the team that have an understanding of what makes the customer tick that we can drive good decisions in areas that will impress our customers.
CL: The three words that seem to surround this vehicle are Power, Passion Precision. Can you talk a little about each, and how they relate to the engineering and development of the 2005 Corvette?
David Hill: Power doesn't just mean acceleration. Of course we have to have more because our customers expect it. But power doesn't just mean the ability to pass just about anything on the road. It's power with control. That's the thing that's great about the Corvette -- it allows the driver to be good. It enables drivers to hop in and go quickly without getting in over their heads. It is power, but it's total performance and power with control. That's what separates it from the Viper or other cars of that ilk. With passion, we are talking about the exciters in the car. Initially, this means the total appearance. But as you study the Corvette more, you continue to find exciting details in the car -- not just visual details, but tactile ones as well. We feel that we can passionately design a suspension control arm, an air inlet duct or even an exhaust tip. It's not just the styling guys who exhibit passion. All of us -- every member of this team -- work on passionate designs that make people take notice. And finally precision, which is having everything be as perfect as humanly possible. Everything on this vehicle exemplifies the workmanship, the craftsmanship and the pride of the people who made it, and then conveyed into the pride of the people who own it.
CL: How were you able to add so many new features -- push-button start, high-intensity headlamps, LS2 -- without affecting the fantastic value of the Corvette?
David Hill: With Corvette come three things: state-of-the-art performance and technology; passionate design; and tremendous value. And we can never walk away from the value obligation that we have to our customers. In order for us to earn our share for the stakeholders, we have to sell a substantial number of cars and pay all the bills and bring a return for the owners of the business. We can only get that volume by offering a tremendous value. We have to remember that many of our customers spend a significant portion of their income to be a Corvette owner, so value is critical. What we do is look hard for ways to cut costs where the result is just as good for the customer. And we look in design, engineering and purchasing for ways to drive the costs down, which in turn enables us to allocate those resources for other higher-value, higher-impact features -- such as keyless entry with push-button start -- in the car. The 2005 Corvette boasts several visible features that look more expensive and more upscale, yet the car will cost approximately the same as the current vehicle.
CL: How important is it to "obsolete the C5" -- meaning, make everything on the sixth generation better than the fifth-generation vehicle.
David Hill: I don't want to be derogatory to the C5, but we live in a very competitive industry with the best makers from Europe and Japan all throwing entries into this very open American market. Everyone wants to have these notable cars -- halo cars -- for their company. It's extremely intense. And as much as we love the C5 and put all of our effort, passion and energy into making the best car we possibly could, we had to go into the sixth generation with the notion of making the fifth generation obsolete. We needed to leapfrog and make this car so much better than the previous version. The only real competitor the Corvette has is another Corvette, so if we're going to continue to employ our people and keep our factory running, we have to keep making it better. Those C5s are not worn out or anything. In fact, the only reason customers are going to get out of a fifth-generation Corvette is because they want to get into the sixth generation vehicle. People have wondered if the new car is a C5 and a half
-- if it's just a facelifted version of the old car. I think that question will be answered resoundingly when people experience the car, because it's a totally new car in the way it behaves and things it does well.
CL: From your point of view, what one thing makes the vehicle special?
David Hill: The one thing is everything. I think our accomplishment here is better than any previous Corvette because this car is going to do so many things so much better. I say that with some trepidation because I have to live up to those words. But honestly, I think we have a very well-rounded car today -- but this one is much more so. It doesn't matter what you want this car to do, it'll do it and then some.
CL: You recently said that your goal was to create the most perfect Corvette ever. Is this it?
David Hill: That's still the goal and it's a daunting, daunting goal. There are thousands of things that need to come together to make a car, and it's even more challenging to have them come together on a schedule. I do believe that our mission is nothing less than bringing out this new car with everything improved over the outgoing car. And I believe everyone on the team has that as their mission and we have a very strong team. Time will tell if it did happen, but I think it's possible.
CL: Has Corvette reached the world-class status you desire?
David Hill: We benchmark everything that's out there -- Porsche, BMW, Honda, Acura, Mercedes, Nissan, Mazda -- all of them. We buy the latest versions, we study them, understand how good they are, test them against our cars -- we know the competition and we feel very strongly about how our car measures up to these cars, many costing substantially more. We know every one of those cars, and we feel that we are doing the very best car against all of those competitors for the way America sees sports cars.
CL: You once said that your favorite Corvette is always the next one. Is that the case right now, or are you enjoying what's happening with the 2005 Corvette?
David Hill: We have to be dissatisfied in our profession, even with great accomplishments of the past. We are always looking for more because that's what we get paid to do. But today, I would say I am 85% focused on the 2005 because we're at an intense time of the program where all the little details have to come together. This car is going to secure our future for the rest of this decade, and our success depends on how well it comes out and the reputation it establishes early on. So it has the majority of my attention. Having said that, I will tell you that the Z06 is going to have super car performance at unbelievable value. The Z06 is very healthy, it's going to be very awesome, and as I say to people it'll be worth the wait. So, while 85% of my time is spent on the 2005, that leaves another 40% for the Z06. Plus we have some other things we're playing around with too.