Electric "Corvette" SUVs and Sedans are Coming: Has Branding Gone Too Far?
In the last couple of years, few models have gone through a bigger transformation than the Chevrolet Corvette. It started with the intro of the current C8 generation, as the 'Vette left behind decades of history as front-engined sports car with its move to a mid-engined layout. It was a major shift, but one that's ultimately elevated the Corvette in terms of both performance and image.
But that might be nothing compared to what's coming next.
Welcome to the Future
We know for certain that there more versions of the C8 Corvette on the way, including a hybridized version which leaked out onto the internet not long ago. And with General Motors' relentless push toward electrification, a pure electric Corvette sports car is also inevitable.
But it seems GM has even bigger plans for the Corvette, or at least the Corvette name. Word is that by 2025 GM is planning to expand the Corvette lineup to include not just the two-seater Corvette as we know it, but a Corvette sedan and SUV, both with electric drivetrains.
To preface my thoughts, I'll say that I don't consider myself a major automotive purist nor am I an EV-hater. I also generally like it when car companies take risks.
But to me the idea of Chevy selling electric Corvette four-doors and SUVs feels less like a bold leap and more like a desperate move to milk something more from one of the company's most established and respected nameplate.
Yes, GM's marketers are correct, there's value in the Corvette name. In a company full of brands that have come and gone, while others (cough, Cadillac) are constantly searching for a new identity, Corvette has stuck.
But Corvette is more than just a brand name. And just because GM can put the name on anything they want, it doesn't mean they should.
Like any other car, Corvettes aren't without their imperfections, but they've always something to be proud of, beloved at home and recognized around the world. And they've always had a formula.
With the exception of the short-lived inline-six '53-'55 models, Corvette has meant a sports car with two-seats and a V8 engine. And despite giant leaps in technology and performance, that holds true today. And you can value what the Corvette is without coming off like an out of touch gearhead living in the past.
What's in a Name?
The Corvette has been around for 70 years, so why didn't GM ever "expand" the Corvette brand with additional models at any time in the past?
In 1967 when Chevrolet introduced its brand new pony car, they didn't call it the "Corvette 2+2" or "Corvette Lite." It was a youthful, two-door that shared plenty of parts with the 'Vette. But they called it "Camaro" and that car soon built up a unique identity and 55+ year heritage of its own.
There's no doubt GM has taken inspiration from Ford, who uses the "Mustang" name for its Mach-E electric crossover. I wasn't a fan of that move either, but even that doesn't seem as egregious as expanding the Corvette from a flagship two-seat sports car into a family of electric vehicles.
For starters, the Mustang has always been a more attainable and wide-serving model than the Corvette. Yes, there have been legendary and rare Shelby GT350s, Boss 302s and Cobra Rs—but there have been a lot more mundane, rental-spec Mustangs that have left the assembly line over the years, including some especially cheap ones in the Mustang II era. The Mustang brand is just as big Corvette, but I'd argue it allows more room for interpretation.
In the few years Ford's EV has been around, the common term for the car is simply "Mach E," with few people actually using the "Mustang" prefix in any meaningful way. Is that the outcome GM is expecting for with these upcoming Corvettes? If so, what's the point in the first place? Or are they doing it just for the buzz?
My real skepticism of future electric Corvettes, comes less from any specific devotion or loyalty to the nameplate (though I do currently own a C5 Corvette that I love), but more what it means for the auto industry and car enthusiasm as a whole in this period of upheaval.
There's no doubt these upcoming Corvette EVs will be fast by the numbers. All high-end EVs are fast, and a lot of them can handle pretty well, despite their immense weight.
So What is a Corvette?
There's no doubt that defenders of these new Corvette EVs will use their 0-60 times and skidpad performance to justify their use of the name. And I have no doubt they'll put most gasoline Corvettes to shame at the drag strip. High end Teslas and other EVs have already been doing that for a while.
The bigger problem is that by their very nature, electric cars lack the mechanical personality that allows great cars to differentiate themselves beyond acceleration or handling numbers.
It comes not just in the V8 sound that Corvettes are known for, but in the gearbox, the weight distribution, the handling balance (or lack thereof in some cases), the identity, and yes, the look of being America's greatest sports car.
What's to a separate these EV Corvettes from the aforementioned Mustang Mach E? Or from Audi's high performance electric SUVs? Or whatever Hyundai is working on? Is it just going to be the "C8-inspired" headlamps and taillights? It will certainly have nothing like the current Z06's screaming flat plane crank V8.
Will an AWD, battery-powered "Corvette" SUV feel anything like a C7 or C8? Or will it feel more like other performance EVs? I think we know the answer.
But in the end, maybe that's the point. In an era where automakers are ambitiously promising to leave their internal combustion engines behind, an all-electric AWD Corvette sedan or SUV might be the car we deserve.
Ultimately, we may have no choice in the matter. GM has to build electric cars to stay alive and the Corvette name is too valuable to die.
I guess if the rules and mandates allow no car to be what a Corvette has always been, then all cars might as well become Corvettes.
More From Driving Line
- Speaking of Corvette's history, the late '70s and early '80s might not have been a high point for stock 'Vette performance, but late C3 Corvettes happen to make excellent project cars today.