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New mid-engine Corvette is accelerating sales and change at Chevrolet

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Las Vegas – As Chevrolet embarked on the historic introduction of its first mid-engine Corvette, marketing chief Steve Majoros admitted that he lost sleep as to whether the iconic sports car's new direction would be a success – or a tone-deaf failure like New Coke.

He's resting easier these days.

“We are experiencing unprecedented demand in anticipation for the car,” said Majoros. “At some point we just tell (dealers) we can’t build the number you are asking us to build.”

The numbers tell the story. Demand is five times greater than dealer allotments for the C8 Stingray. Chevy has gotten an unprecedented 192,131 “hand-raisers” — customers who express an interest in buying — for a nameplate that has averaged 24,000 copies sold a year since 2006. The Corvette website has been deluged by 6.9 million visits since its introduction in July of last year with Chevy’s “Visualizer” car-configuration page receiving 2.5 million visits.  

The first Corvette C8s should be delivered to customers in the next couple of weeks.

“It has blown away all daily, monthly and annual numbers for a nameplate on Chevy.com,” said Majoros who was in Nevada for the C8’s media track test at Spring Mountain Raceway.

The Stingray’s combination of European styling and Ferrari-like performance numbers have opened it to an exotic car buyer who traditionally only shops for $200,000-plus Italian supercars.

“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from people who can afford anything,” said Corvette product manager Harlan Charles. “They really appreciate it because they can drive it every day, cross-country, and take trips with confidence knowing they have Chevy dealer support.”

Charles says that such luxury buyers traditionally buy mid-engine exotics as “point A to point A” cars. That is, vanity cars to take to the country club or race track on weekends. The C8, says Charles, introduces a mid-engine exotic that, for the first time, is not only affordable at a base price of $59,995 – but also has ample cargo room, comfort, and a reliable dealer network that defies the stereotype of mid-engine sports cars as fragile toys.

GM says demand is five times greater than dealer allotments for the C8 Stingray.

Boosting the Corvette’s insatiable demand is the fact that the car is also offered as a hard-top convertible – a luxury heretofore only seen on cars like the $300,000 Ferrari 488 and McLaren 720S.

Even though the $7,000 drop-top option has only been available for order since October (after the base C8 coupe’s July intro), it’s already running at 25% of orders – north of Corvette’s traditional 20% convertible demand. Charles predicts that number will continue to grow.

“There is no compromise with the convertible,” says Charles. "It stows on top of the engine, so customers don’t sacrifice cargo space or chassis stiffness.”

As the broader customer base suggests, the new car has put pressure on Chevy to raise its marketing game.

Thousands of new customers have flooded Chevy dealerships to view the C8’s traveling showroom – many of them buyers who have never considered a Chevy. The first cars should be delivered to buyers in the next couple of weeks.

Charles says every dealership that sells Corvettes now must train a staffer here at Spring Mountain Raceway. That's to make sure they have a Corvette expert who has driven the Stingray on the track and experienced its state-of-the-art technology. So-called “signature” Chevy dealers who sell high numbers of Corvettes will send two sales people and a service staffer.

Stow two golf bags, luggage -- or the roof for open-air driving.

Additionally, Chevy has added a concierge service so Corvette customers can ask detailed questions about their purchase. Dozens of videos have been crafted for YouTube so that buyers learn how to use new tech like the Performance Data Recorder (which records real-time track data) and multiple drive modes.

"The mid-engine design attracts new buyers, so there's going to be people darkening the doorway of a Chevy dealership for the first time,” said Rebecca Lindland, automotive consultant with RebeccaDrives.com. “These buyers may test the dealer on their knowledge of the most minute of details, armed with a very specific car in mind of the 15,000 different build-configurations Corvette offers. But the Corvette is so good, the key strategy is just to get the person to drive it.”

Hundreds of owners pass through Spring Mountain Raceway’s gates each year to learn about GM’s latest toys. The Ron Fellows racing school (ahead of gaining a fleet of new C8s in April) has been testing the Stingray for three months. The verdict from instructors is overwhelming: the C8 belongs in the rare air breathed by Italian exotics.

“It’s handles better than a Lamborghini, and is somewhere between a Ferrari 430 and a Ferrari 458,” said veteran instructor Jason Aquino who  teaches enthusiasts how to go fast in Lamborghinis and Ferraris at the Exotics Racing School at nearby Las Vegas Speedway.

Bomnin Auto Group in Miami, one of the country’s biggest 'Vette peddlers, plans to give the Chevy sports car its own showroom as it converts an abandoned Toys R Us building near its Chevy showrooms.

By shifting its mass rearward, the mid-engine Corvette is fastest-accelerating introductory Corvette ever – 2.9-seconds zero-60. And it is speeding new challenges to the 108-year old Chevy brand.

“This is the greatest opportunity we’ve ever had to get a new generation of enthusiasts interested in Corvettes,” said Charles.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.