There’s no evidence of one yet, but performance-oriented utility vehicles are resonating with buyers, and that’s significant.
Passenger cars and sedans no longer sell in the volumes they used to even five years ago. Pretty soon the used car section of your local Chevy dealer is the only place you’ll find the Chevy Cruze and Impala. Supercar manufacturers even altered their product plans to accommodate this shift, which is really saying something. Utility vehicles are more important than ever. And that could signal a seismic shift for the Corvette brand as well.
There isn’t hard evidence that General Motors is thinking about adding anything under the Corvette umbrella. That didn’t stop a Wall Street analyst from asking CEO Marry Barra about the possibility of a Corvette-based utility vehicle. The Detroit Free Press covered this individual’s bold question while speculating about an SUV-infused Corvette lineup. Is it a farfetched idea? Maybe. But it isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility.
Could It Happen?
In the past, we haven’t exactly treated the idea of a Corvette-branded SUV with the seriousness it might deserve. For 2017’s April Fools’ Day, Corvette Forums literally treated it like a joke. But the world moves pretty fast these days, and that was before General Motors decided to axe a substantial portion of its passenger car lineup. The Corvette itself switched to its mid-engine layout in order to appeal to a younger crowd, after all. An alteration of the brand itself would constitute an even greater change. But the idea pretty consistently makes headlines on the internet, especially when potential sightings of a Corvette-based utility vehicle surface from reputable sources. A July 2019 article from Autoweek cited anonymous GM officials when it declared that Corvette would grow into a sub-brand with the addition of some type of utility vehicle and sedan, plus a possible Cadillac variant.
From a fiscal perspective, expanding the Corvette lineup wouldn’t be a totally irresponsible move. Additional models could use the Corvette architecture or at least its engine and transmission, which would increase the economy of scale. A concerted effort to diversify the brand could also draw in buyers who otherwise wouldn’t purchase something like a low slung, two-door coupe with meager cargo space. But there are obvious drawbacks as well. The company would have to spend significantly more money to develop any additional models and find capacity at one of their factories to build them too. And before that occurred they’d have to consider the possibility of brand dilution. Could those theoretical models damage the Corvette’s identity?
The Rise of the Exotic SUV
There is a case to be made that the addition of a Corvette-based SUV wouldn’t harm the brand at all. Supercar manufacturers recently branched out and introduced their own performance-oriented models. Publications speculated that such additions would harm the brands in question but that hasn’t happened. Critics perhaps justifiably feared how a brand like Lamborghini would fare once the Urus arrived. Turns out that at the very least, it was good for business. Lamborghini sales in 2019 are up substantially compared to 2018 and it’s all due to the Urus. Beyond helping the brand woo customers into the fold, the SUV earned almost unanimous praise from reviewers. The Urus has succeeded without altering how buyers perceived the brand. And if there are customers out there disgusted at Lamborghini’s pivot beyond coupes, the brand is bringing in enough new blood for that not to matter much.
Putting Things Into Perspective
Lamborghini’s success with the Urus comes with some important caveats. The brand is a part of the Volkswagen Group and as such, they had access to an architecture used in other vehicles underneath the corporate umbrella. While the engine is unique to the Urus, a significant amount of other components are shared with vehicles like the Audi Q7, Bentley Bentayaga, and Porsche Cayenne. That Lamborghini instilled their essence into a platform employed by other companies without diluting their heritage speaks to the skill of their engineers. But a company like GM isn’t going to have the resources to make anything as substantial as the Urus without making a significant investment first. And that dollar figure makes such an endeavor pretty risky.
The Volkswagen Group’s performance SUV’s also share another important trait. None of them exist as their own sub-brand. They’re all just products sold alongside their stablemates. That makes it easier for them to just disappear from showrooms if they don’t sell. A crossover or sedan that shared at least part of the Corvette name could potentially damage the brand if it failed.
It’s entirely reasonable to speculate on the Corvette’s future. Sub-brands are a growing phenomenon in the auto industry. Ford is reportedly looking to leverage the Mustang and Bronco nameplates into something more than the products that enthusiasts traditionally associate with them. And GM experimented with the Avenir and Denali trims for premium vehicles in the Buick and GMC lineups, respectively. The Corvette is a bit different though, and changing what the name represents would be incredibly risky. In all likelihood, the Corvette’s assets will probably be leveraged into a future product, but under a different name, or as a high-performance Cadillac. The successful launch of the C8 is GM’s first priority. And judging by the success the company experienced despite the radical change from the front to a mid-engine layout, the executives understand how to carry the Corvette brand forward. There’s no need to panic.