A mainstream carmaker has no business building niche products. Literally. For one thing, they’re hardly ever profitable. For another, even when they are, their profits are relatively insignificant. And most importantly, “halo cars” are four-wheeled glass and steel versions of Dumbo’s magic feather. They lead manufacturers to mistake cause with effect: if we build this, we must be good. In fact, any automaker that focuses its creative, financial and corporate resources on a halo car risks forgetting how to do what it did to get those resources in the first place—and an eventual plummet towards the circus floor. The Chevrolet Corvette may be only one of GM’s magic feathers, but it’s the most famous and, therefore, visible. GM should kill it, STAT.
Next week, GM’s heads head back to the bailout buffet. They’ll try to convince your elected representatives to provide another heaping helping of taxpayer bucks (a.k.a. federal loans). Both the company and its camp followers [sic] will, once again, concentrate on the numbers: union wages and benefits, bondholder debt-for-equity swaps, VEBA payments, the old SAAR, the projected SAAR, the car SAAR, who’s SAARy now, etc. And why not? As a Harvard MBA, General Motors lifer and former CFO, GM CEO Rick Wagoner never met a balance sheet he couldn’t dress-up for a party—even if it’s a freaker’s ball.
Which brings us back to the ‘Vette: the freaker’s ball pace car. The Chevrolet Corvette is a singular machine, a modern throwback that offers more bang for the buck than Marietta’s Bullet Stop. An enthusiast who buys one is beyond reproach, in the same sense that a homeowner who restores a Victorian pile deserves nothing by kudos. And? The Corvette is a brand anomaly; it’s as much a Chevy as a Cayenne is a Porsche, only less so. Again, the Corvette is awesome machine in and of itself. But out and outside of itself, it makes no sense.
Do Chevrolet products need a personality? Of course not. The Malibu is the proper template. It’s a car. Good mileage, reasonable price, adequate comfort, reliable (fingers crossed), not ugly. Value. While pistonheads worship at the temple of Bowling Green, Chevy buyers are busy bowling. They’re working class people who can’t afford a sports car, never mind one that costs $50K+. The new ‘Bu and old Impala are their best case scenario.
The only possible defense for this great landing at the wrong airport: symbolic value. “America’s sports car” and all that. Which is why Wagoner should announce its termination.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, General Motor’s future hangs by a thread. The decisions we make today mean life or death for this great American enterprise. We take our responsibility seriously. GM can not—will not—shy away from the unpleasant parts of this monumental task.
“We have therefore decided to re-examine our entire brand and product portfolio, to decide which brands and vehicles can help us survive, and which vehicles and brands we must abandon to ensure our survival.
“It is with great regret that I must announce that General Motors will no longer build the Chevrolet Corvette.
“We here at General Motors are proud of the fine men and women who have designed and built this vehicle for generations of appreciative enthusiasts. But General Motors must leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of profitability. We must address our problems and shortcomings with unflinching honesty, and do whatever it takes to correct them.
“As part of this process, we are refocusing the Chevrolet brand. Chevy will now offer a limited range of entry-level automobiles. Each one of the brand’s three models will provide class-leading quality, comfort, fuel economy and value.
“The Corvette is a world class sports car. But it does not fit our mission-critical effort to restore Chevrolet, and thus GM, to profitability. We take our obligation to repay the generosity of the American taxpayer seriously. If we must sacrifice the Chevrolet Corvette to satisfy our obligations, we will do it.
“At some point in the near future, as soon as we can, the Corvette will rejoin GM’s fleet as a Cadillac. It will be a different car, with the same goal: to give enthusiasts the world’s best and most thrilling sports car, bar none. An all-American product.
“For those of you disappointed by this news, I’d like to point out that we are redoubling our efforts to deliver the plug-in Chevrolet Volt, a hybrid vehicle that will reinvent the way Americans drive. It’s a new kind of product that will help us refocus Chevy on what made the brand America’s most popular car brand.
“I thank you for your time and understanding. Rest assured that as painful as this is, the Corvette’s sacrifice will be GM’s gain.”