Los Angeles – Two weeks before the Chevy Corvette ZR1 supercar was to debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, General Motors product chief Mark Reuss had hip surgery.
Yet. when the 755-horsepower ’Vette debuted before a packed house Tuesday night, there was Reuss, standing on stage and leading the ceremonies.
“If that doesn’t get your heart racing, then nothing will,” he said as coupe and convertible versions of the ZR1 revved onstage through a cloud of smoke and pulsating music.
Reuss wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
A Corvette owner himself, the 34-year GM veteran has put his heart into the seventh-generation Corvette’s development. Rare among top executives, Reuss not only presides over product development, he rigorously tests every vehicle GM makes, frequently joining engineers at the company’s Milford Proving Grounds to put vehicles through the paces on and off the track.
His passion, along with the aggressive leadership of fellow top execs Mary Barra and Dan Amman, is considered a key reason that GM is leading a Detroit product renaissance that has put the General at the forefront of everything from super sports cars to electrified, autonomous vehicles.
Determined to make vehicles like the Corvette and Camaro coupe world-class performance cars, Reuss is a Nurburgring-licensed driver who can take the 212-mph ZR1, for example, to the world-famous 140-turn race track and push the car’s envelope alongside the program’s hired hot-shoes.
It’s no coincidence that Reuss’ twin hip replacements allow him to more easily fold into low-slung sports cars.
“Whether it’s a Chevy Traverse SUV or a Corvette, I want to drive the car and see where the limits are,” said Reuss in an interview just feet from the ZR1 that he has put countless laps on.
“But it’s also important to drive them 4-5 hours off-property on roads that aren’t perfect. To be able to that, you have to be able to read a car. And reading a car means having to drive a car to its capability.”
Chevy last made a ZR1 in 2008, on the old C6 Corvette platform. A lot has changed since then as GM has emerged from the Great Recession and painful bankruptcy.
This is not only a new-generation Corvette, it’s a company for the next generation. Key to the change is how much Chevy’s bandwidth has grown. This is no longer a truck and horsepower brand. It is a technology brand reaching new buyers.
“You can see the agility of the company. Today we’re talking about a 755-horsepower Corvette, tomorrow I’m going to talk about autonomous vehicles and electrification in San Francisco with Mary (Barra) and Dan (Amman) to investors,” Reuss says.
“Look at the demographic of people who are buying our electrified vehicles, and 85 percent of people coming into our brands and our EVs — Volt and Bolt — haven’t shopped GM before. Return buyers of Volt are just about higher than anywhere else. There’s a real good pattern there.”
This month, GM will sell more EVs than any other automaker in California, a startling metric metric for a Detroit automaker that once struggled to make in-roads on the coast.
Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer credits GM’s product turnaround to a Barra-Amman-Reuss executive team “more aligned in their vision than ever before in GM.”
He applauds Reuss’ ability to be a passionate car guy and a prudent businessman at the same time.
“Reuss is the Bob Lutz of a new generation,” says Brauer, referencing the Detroit legend responsible for the Dodge Viper and Volt. “They are both car guys who have an intrinsic passion that they can translate into successful business models. Reuss can get a ZR1 supercar built but also see the future for Bolt electrification.”
As a result of its more diverse product lineup, “Like Toyota, GM is prepared no matter what the cultural moment,” says Brauer. “No matter what is ‘in,’ GM has an answer.”
He says the Corvette will continue to push the limits because it offers a halo for the brand but also inspires GM team members. “A lot of what you see on (the ZR1) — the materials, the drivetrains — will make their way into our other cars and trucks. It’s a source of pride (in) the company.”
Looking at the Hulk-like ZR1 — its muscular tires and V-8 supercharger straining the limits of its front-engine wardrobe — Reuss is asked whether this is the ZR1’s last hurrah before Chevy introduces a mid-engine Corvette to keep up with other mid-engine hybrid-electric competitors. Mid-engine Corvette mules have been seen in camouflage around Metro Detroit.
“This is the fastest C7 you will see,” he says, taking a seat to rest his healing hip. “That’s all I can say.”