The Chevy Jolt: The Corvette Goes Electric
The first mass-market modern hybrid-electric car was the Toyota Prius, and with each passing year the market has seen additional hybrids and, more recently, fully electric cars ranging from the earnest Nissan Leaf to the over-the-top Tesla Model S with “ludicrous mode.”
During 2017, however, we got a glimpse of how serious the automakers are about electrification when Volvo – staid, sober Volvo – announced that beginning in 2019, every new Volvo will run at least in part on electric power. “We are determined to be the first premium carmaker to move our entire portfolio of vehicles into electrification,” Volvo chief Hakan Samuelsson said in a statement last summer.
Volvo’s announcement, that it will roll out several fully electric models, along with additional hybrids, was perceived as stunning. But in just a few short months, so many other automakers have spoken of their own electrification plans that it has become obvious that we are on the cusp of a new automotive era.
In January Ford announced its plans to shift capital investment away from internal combustion engines to develop more electric and hybrid cars. Similarly, Daimler has said it will spend at least $11.7 billion to introduce new electric and hybrid models, and further that it intends to electrify its full range of vehicles. And the largest overall such investment was announced by Volkswagen, which says that it will spend $40 billion by 2030 to build electrified versions of all its product globally.
None of these announcements, however, prepared us for the latest from Detroit: While General Motors has said recently that it plans to introduce 20 all-new battery and fuel cell electric vehicles by 2023, most of them built on a new modular platform currently under development, the stunning news this week is that one of those cars will be the 2023 Corvette.
Timed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first Corvette, introduced in 1953 (with a six-cylinder engine), the 2023 battery-powered Corvette will not be a hybrid option nor will it be a model variation, it will be the only Corvette. The venerable Chevy V8, currently developing up to 650 horsepower and 650 lb.-ft. of torque in the ‘Vette, will be tossed aside in favor of multiple electric motors offering Tesla-like all-wheel drive, 750-plus horsepower, a phenomenal 900-plus ft-lbs of torque, and an EPA fuel economy rating in excess of 100 MPGe.
The Tesla Model S is currently considered to be the fastest-accelerating production car. But where the Tesla is a sedan, the Corvette will remain a two-seat sports car. Tesla was not named in the announcement issued from Chevrolet’s headquarters in the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, but Tesla clearly is one of the targets.
After more than 40 years of teases, a mid-engine Corvette is just over the horizon, but Chevy has confirmed that the mid-engine car, part of its plan to attract younger buyers to the model and to the brand, is going to be the last gasoline-powered Corvette. Harlan Charles, Chevrolet’s Product Marketing Manager for the Corvette, did not address whether the 2023 electric Corvette will retain the cab-forward profile of the upcoming mid-engine car, or shift back to a more classic shape, or perhaps even adopt a wholly new appearance.
Nor has battery placement been specified. Where cars such as the Tesla and Chevy’s own fully-electric Bolt place the batteries under the floor for a low center of gravity, how that might be accomplished while preserving the Corvette’s low-low profile remains to be seen.
But – is this plan sacrilege? The Corvette, powered since the 1955 model year by a thundering Chevy V8 engine, available only as an electric car? While on the one hand the performance parameters will be expanded by the instant torque of the electric powerplant, and road-handling is likely to be improved by AWD and careful battery placement, on the other hand, the Corvette faithful may turn up their noses at such a thing. And while electric cars may indeed be the Next Big Thing, at present electric cars and hybrids makeup only a tiny percentage of all vehicle sales, and are so much more costly to build that most of today’s electrics and hybrids are image-building loss leaders.
Chevrolet, for its part, expresses no concerns. Standing foursquare behind their decision, the company notes that current and future regulations both here and abroad are skewing in favor of alternatives to internal combustion. And costs, they say, will in time allow for profitability with ongoing development and the economies of scale that come with spreading the technology across a wide range of products.
Here at CarShowSafari.com, opinions around the office cover the spectrum. President and Creative Director Tomm Scalera scoffs at the plan, pointing to the V8-powered cars in his driveway – including a Mustang convertible and a Corvette-powered Buick Roadmaster wagon – and says simply, “never.” Motorsports Editor Bob Marlow, on the other hand, his ears damaged by a lifetime at racetracks and a fan of performance over all else, can’t wait to see the Corvette slaughter the Tesla.
Time, of course, will tell. And time it will take, because the design of the new electric Corvette is not planned to be revealed until two years from today, April Fool’s Day, 2018.