GM rolls out the 2014 Corvette—but is it still relevant?

The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is displayed after being unveiled ahead of the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is displayed after being unveiled ahead of the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan.

Despite the fact the Chevy Corvette is one of the most iconic sports cars ever built, with legions of fans, it is a car at a crossroads.

As General Motors rolls-out the new 2014 Corvette Stingray there will be a slew of auto journalists praising the newest 'vette as a fantastic ride, but few of those journalists will raise these questions: Is the Corvette still relevant? Is it still a halo car for General Motors?

"I think it's still a halo car," said Joe Weisenfelder with "Corvette doesn't have the strength it once had or the strength other halo cars have, but it is definitely still relevant."

Okay, it's still a relevant sports car, but can it generate buzz? More importantly, can it rev up greater sales?

For most of the 90's and through 2006, GM sold between 25,000 and 36,000 Corvettes every year. Then, the recession hit, GM went bankrupt, and the company's most vaunted sports car struggled.

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Now, with a new Corvette starting at $51,995, General Motors is hoping the sports car is ready for a rebound.

'Vette Sales Losing Vroom?

  • 2006 36,518
  • 2008 29,971
  • 2010 12,624
  • 2012 14,132

Source: Autodata

1974 Corvette Stingray
Barnstarbob | Wikipedia
1974 Corvette Stingray

New life with a new Interior

As GM was sliding towards bankruptcy, work on the seventh generation Corvette slowed down. Once the automaker went into bankruptcy, there was a brief period where the company scrapped plans to redesign the sports car. Fortunately for Corvette fans, GM's leaders after bankruptcy realized it would be foolish not to capitalize on the brand awareness and appeal built up since 1953. So they came up with the new '14 model, borrowing styling cues from the '63 Stingray.

With 460 horsepower and a V-8, 3.2 liter engine, the new 'vette roars. Going 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds.

But what's really impressive is the new interior.

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"They definitely fixed the flaws with the quality of the interior," says Karl Brauer with Kelly Blue Book. "It's quieter, much better fit and finish and the seats are world class."

The upgrade was long overdue. In the past, GM skimped on the interior of the Corvette. I remember once pointing out to a GM engineer that some of the buttons in the Corvette appeared to be similar to what you might see in a Chevy Impala or Malibu? He begrudgingly agreed.

"The interiors were a problem. The seats were terrible and the materials not up to the competition," says Brauer. "It wasn't a great car. It was a great performance bargain."

Still King of the Sports Cars?

While the new Corvette is a huge improvement, it's also rolling into showrooms at a time when it's tougher than ever for dealers to sell sports cars.

"It's tougher for two-door sports cars to stand out," says Weisenfelder." There was a time when the 'vette was 'it' because there were not as many competitors. That's not the case anymore."

A good example is the Porsche 911.

This year, sales are up 20 percent and Porsche has sold almost as many 911 models (6,045) as Chevy has sold Corvettes (6,344).

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Keep in mind the 911 starts at roughly $84,000 which is approximately $30,000 more than the Corvette.

"The Corvette has always been a great sports car for the buck, but it didn't lift the brand," says Brauer. "I think the potential is there for the Stingray to bring back buyers."

In a perfect world, a halo car lifts the image of a brand, makes the public have a loftier opinion of an automaker (Tesla's Model S is a good current example) and hopefully bring new potential customers into the showroom.

Back in the 50's, 60's and much of the 70's, the 'vette did that for Chevrolet. Let's see if the new Corvette Stingray still has what it takes to be king of the sports cars.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

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