Over the last few years, the mantra at Corvette has been more performance, more horsepower. But the passage of the new energy bill that raises the CAFE standards to an average of 35 mpg will undoubtedly force GM’s engineers to rethink performance while pursuing economy first. The results will be a lighter, greener Corvette that will not only survive the 35 mpg standard, but should thrive in it as well.
The standard Corvette coupe and convertible models already get a highly respectable 28 mpg highway average despite being powered by the 6.2 liter 430 hp LS3. With its fiberglass panels and hydroformed aluminum frame, the current Corvette already weighs in at a lean 3200 pounds. According to Tom Wallace, GM’s Performance Vehicle Line Executive, the future Corvette will be a sports car where fuel economy and a reduced carbon footprint can coexist with performance as long as engineers pay attention to the ever important weight to horsepower ratio.
Wallace won’t talk specifics about the C7 Corvette, but he told Automotive News that if the Corvette’s weight was dropped 300 to 400 pounds and was powered by a 4.7 Liter V8 with about 150 less hp than the current LS3, the weight to horsepower ratio is essentially the same as the current standard C6 Corvette.
While the Corvette ZR1 makes extensive use of carbon fiber as a weight saving material, the cost is currently prohibitive in the standard models. But that could change by the time the C7 is developed.
It’s also possible that by the year 2012 when the new C7 Corvette is expected that we will see the next generation of fuel efficient engines that utilize both gasoline and ethanol. With the trickle-down effect that Corvette Racing has on its regular production-bred siblings, its a natural evolution for there to be an E85 powered Corvette coming directly from the assembly plant at Bowling Green. Corvette Racing tells us that ethanol based fuel has a higher octane rating so the combination of the new engines powered by ethanol combined with a lighter body may get Corvette close to the 35 mpg highway average.
Two other factors help Corvette as well. First, the amount of Corvettes produced in recent years averages roughly 35,000 cars compared to the nearly 4 million GM sells domestically, so the impact of the Corvette’s highway MPG figure is smaller than that of one of GM’s mass-produced vehicles. Secondly, GM’s investment in alternative fuel solutions and new products like the Chevy Volt are likely to increase the automaker’s average significantly if the market is there to support them.
Corvette enthusiasts may have to swallow the reduced horsepower pill like we had to with the C3 Corvettes. The good news is that unlike the Seventies, GM won’t simply cut performance to increase mileage standards. Performance will always be one of the governing covenants of the Corvette, and with the looming changes on the horizon, there will be room for a green Corvette.
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