GM Thinks Like Porsche – and this is a good thing

Colored seat belts. That’s what caught my eye in the avalanche of C8 Corvette coverage we rolled out on back in July. Depending on which interior theme you select for your new C8, you can choose seat belts in one of six colors, from basic black to red, yellow, orange, blue, and tan. Hallelujah! I thought. GM is thinking like Porsche. And this is a good thing.

“To boost profit, GM can take another page out of the Porsche playbook by offering a huge range of options and accessories,” Todd Lassa and I wrote in a 2007 story in which we discussed potential design and development strategies for the C7, then still years away from launch. More than a decade later, GM seems to have finally figured this out.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 North America C8

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 North America C8

C8 buyers can choose between 12 exterior colors, six wheel designs, four brake caliper colors, and different types of seats. The C8 configurator will look a lot like that of the Porsche 911, which allows buyers to personalize their cars countless ways, including the choice of seat belts in nine colors.

And that’s not counting the powertrain, tire, suspension, brake, and aerodynamic hardware for the faster, more powerful C8s lurking in the wings. Once these models appear, buyers will be led along the C8 Corvette performance curve in much the same way 911 buyers are walked from Carrera to GTS to Turbo to GT2 RS. The profit bit? Back in 2007, we noted the average Carrera buyer ordered about $8,100 worth of options, an 11 percent uptick over the base price. In 2019, with almost 200 highly profitable options to choose from, that figure is more than $20,000, about 20 percent over base price.

The 911 GTS started life as a marketing concept that packaged together some of the most popular options chosen by 911 Carrera S customers at a slightly discounted price. It’s now a 911 model line in its own right, costing $15,000 more than a standard Carrera S and $13,000 less than a GT3, and it accounts for 20 percent of all 911 sales.

The switch from front- to mid-engine marks a radical step change for America’s own sports car. But what’s even more radical is the step change in GM’s attitude to attracting buyers for the car: More customizable and configurable than ever, the C8 Corvette is clearly not … a Chevy.

Corvette’s association with the Bow Tie badge has set up expectations about price, quality, and capability that have been at odds with its mission. I asked a GM insider why the company fit hard run-flat tires on the C6, which amplified its tendency toward snap oversteer in high-speed turns. He sighed: “Our customers would complain if we fitted tires that wore out after 20,000 miles.”

And when I asked former Corvette chief engineer Tom Wallace whether he’d consider an automated dual-clutch transmission for the C7 (this was in 2007), he replied: “It won’t buy me a quicker 0–60 mph time.” Yeah, but what about a quicker Nürburgring lap time, Tom? I got one of those looks that suggested he thought the average Corvette buyer wouldn’t know the Nürburgring from a hole in the ground. No more.

The evolution away from that mindset started with cars like the Z06/Z07 and ZR1, Corvettes that offered modern aero, proper high-performance tires, and carbon-ceramic brakes. But the C8 obliterates the tired old boomer-era sacred cows like where the engine sits. Instead, it focuses on making the Corvette a sports car that’s highly aspirational yet still relatively affordable, modern, relevant, and uniquely American.

I love the glory days of Motown, when muscle ran rampant along Woodward Avenue. But it’s refreshing to see a Corvette no longer trapped by history.

The range of options on the new C8 Corvette is reminiscent of Porsche more than Chevrolet. Even the VIN is customizable.

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