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DETROIT — General Motors unveiled Chevrolet's white whale for Corvette enthusiasts on Thursday, a new mid-engine version of the famed American sports car that many have been waiting decades for the automaker to produce.
But the biggest surprise for industry officials wasn't the car's 495 horsepower or 0-60 time in under 3 seconds, it was the price. GM President Mark Reuss said the "supercar" will start at under $60,000 — in line with entry-level models of the current, seventh-generation Corvette with the engine mounted up front.
"I was hoping for a starting price of under $80,000, and maybe even under $70,000," Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book said in an email. "For GM to offer the new Corvette for under $60,000 is incredibly impressive given the advanced nature of the new car."
While some high-performance models are expected to easily top $100,000 — the current track-ready 2019 Corvette ZR1 starts at $123,000 — officials say the entry-level price ensures Corvette will retain its reputation as "obtainable performance" and an "everyman's sports car." Executives are hoping the competitive price and high-performance will be enough to lure drivers away from European rivals and boost Corvette's lagging sales.
"Mid-engine has always been a part of Corvette's destiny and it's something we've been looking at for a very, very long time," Reuss said during the unveiling in Tustin, California. "All along, it has been absolutely paramount that we keep Corvette true to its roots of attainable performance. Mid-engine has historically posed a challenge to this mission. Not so anymore."
Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at auto research site Edmunds, described the pricing as "staying true" to the Corvette's DNA, however she cautioned that doesn't guarantee the car will be successful in attracting buyers from already-established competitors in the segment.
"Even though the Corvette may compete on paper with mid-engine European sports cars, people buy Porsches and BMWs for reasons beyond price and performance. So I don't see a lot of Boxster shoppers suddenly deciding to get a Corvette instead," she said.
Brauer agrees: "As with past Corvettes, this one will hold its own against exotic cars costing multiple times its price. But, as has also been true with past Corvettes, comparable performance doesn't guarantee conversion of Ferrari or Porsche buyers into the Chevy camp."
Powering the car will be Chevrolet's LT2 small-block 6.2-liter V-8 engine rated at 495 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque. That's 40 more horsepower and additional pound-feet of torque than the 2019 model.
Despite similar engine performance, there's also concern about the mid-engine design alienating traditional Corvette buyer — specifically baby Boomers and older generations that may not come back to purchase the new car.
"I think some of these vehicles from the Detroit 3, the muscles cars and such, their time is running out," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with Cox Automotive. "I look at Harley-Davidson as an example. The buyer base for those vehicles is aging out."
Edmunds reports 30% of Corvette buyers were age 65 or older in 2018, up from about 28% in 2013. Nearly 60% of buyers were 55 or older through the first four months of this year, according to Edmunds.
GM needed to do something new to make a business case for the car. Whether or not the mid-engine Corvette can redefine the supercar segment and compete against pricier competitors will be determined when it arrives in showrooms early next year.
Corvette sales in the U.S. have steadily declined every year since more than doubling with the introduction of the current-generation car in 2014. Through the first six months of this year, Corvette sales were down 5%. That puts GM on pace to sell less than 20,000 units for a second-consecutive year and marks five-straight years of declining sales.
The car's performance and ability to compete with the competition has never been the problem. The company has continued to spend capital on variants of the car that achieved new levels of performance in recent years.
"I am not clear on the business case," Krebs said. "They're ramping up production pretty significantly and I don't know how many sales will result; the jury's still out on that."
GM, which has been significantly cutting production of low-selling passenger cars, in April announced it would add a second shift and more than 400 hourly jobs at its Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant to support production of the next-generation, mid-engine Corvette.
To assist sales of the mid-engine Corvette, GM launched an online reservation program. It's a first for the company but a practice recently used by Ford, Tesla and others to drum-up anticipation and sales.