Chevrolet Corvette planned for less than $50,000 in pursuit entry-level buyers

The new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is displayed during The new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is displayed during the 83rd Geneva International Motor Show. (March 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images / AFP

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DETROIT - General Motors Co isplanning to build an entry-level Chevrolet Corvette that wouldcost less than $50,000 and widen the iconic sports car brandsappeal, people familiar with the plans said.

The No. 1 U.S. automaker is looking at bringing out the lessexpensive model in mid- to late- 2015, according to the people,who asked not to be identified discussing future productstrategy.

"Clearly, theres a lot of opportunity with Corvette," oneof the people said. "Its good for General Motors to be thinkingout of the box a little bit."

In January, GM showed the 2014 Corvette Stingray, the firstnew Corvette in nine years, ahead of the Detroit auto show.Called the C7 by fans, it is the seventh generation of theAmerican-made sports car and will go on sale in late summer.

An entry-level Corvette would have a less powerful 5.3-literV8 engine, and lack a number of features found in the Stingraysuch as automatic climate control, the sources said. It would beoffered only as a coupe and cost less than the current Corvette,which starts at just over $50,000 and runs up to $112,600.

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GM denied there were such plans. "We havent even announcedpricing for the Stingray yet, so its a little premature to talkabout whats coming next," GM spokesman Monte Doran said. "Atthis moment, we dont have any plans to offer something belowwhere the Stingray is."

Officials with suppliers for the Corvette, who asked not tobe identified, said they had not heard of plans for a lessexpensive, entry-level model. One added suppliers would need toknow at least two years ahead of time in order to ensure theycould provide the necessary parts in volume.

Even as sales have dwindled from a peak of 42,571 in 1977 to14,132 last year, Corvette has maintained its cachet andexclusivity as the only legitimate, U.S.-built competitor tosuch exotic European sports-car brands as Ferrari andLamborghini. Corvette is built in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson called the new Corvette atits January introduction a "halo car" that would draw buyers tothe Chevrolet brand, which accounted for 71 percent of the U.S.automakers sales last year. He said the Stingray was indicativeof the risks GM was willing to take.

Since it debuted 60 years ago as a GM Motorama concept carshow in New York, the Corvette has earned the nickname"Americas sports car" - embodying Detroit muscle andengineering know-how. It has inspired songs and been featured intelevision shows. To date, GM has built and sold more than 1.5million of the cars.

GM has gradually expanded its Corvette offerings over thelast nine years, adding increasingly more powerful and expensiveversions, and an entry-level model would simply be the nextstep. Its something company officials have considered anddismissed before.

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"Its something we discussed from time to time," said oneformer GM executive, who asked not to be identified. "It wouldbe a nice to have. There will always be more pressing uses forcapital and resources. Besides, theres Camaro. How many sportscars does one division need?"

A lower priced offering by Corvette could expand the brandsreach, said Jerry Burton, associate creative director atCampbell-Ewald and the publisher of the Corvette Quarterlyfactory magazine during its 20-year run that ended in 2008.

"If theyre talking about doing a Corvette that has a lowerprice point, that could possibly expand the market," saidBurton, who has written two books about the Corvette.

"You look at the number of people under 40 who would evenseriously consider a Corvette and its off the radar screen.Its just too expensive," he added. "The Corvette has becomereally much more of an empty nesters car, a reward to yourselffor getting your kids through college."

GM weighed a similar approach with the fifth generation ofthe Corvette in the late 1990s, but ended up abandoning plans touse cloth seats, manual locks, and smaller tires and wheels,Burton said.

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Peter DeLorenzo, editor-in-chief of the Autoextremist.comweb site, has previously called on GM to expand the Corvettelineup and believes the brand could succeed as its own division.

"Corvette has been an underutilized brand for a long time,"he said. "GM has never quite understood what they had."

Cathy Gardner, an accountant in Memphis, Tennessee who ownsa jetstream blue 2010 Corvette Z06 and is a member of the localCorvette fan club, is less than enthused by the idea.

"I dont know if an entry-level Corvette would be the way,"she said. "Thats the function that Camaro performs. I wouldjust really hate to dilute the reputation of the Corvette."

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