Should GM follow Chrysler’s path and separate Corvette from Chevrolet brand?

Article by Christian Andrei, on February 27, 2012

Viper’s redesigned two-seater will make its debut this April at the New York Auto Show. Dodge fans were surprised with Chrysler Group’s announcement that Viper won’t be marketed under the Dodge brand anymore. General Motors actually seriously considered this plan about a decade ago. This upcoming redesign marks the start of Viper’s move from Dodge to SRT, its performance brand.

Viper has been linked to Dodge starting in 1989 with the debut of the Dodge Viper RT/10 concept. It was in 1992 that the first Dodge Viper SRT10 started selling. Since then, more than 28,056 Vipers were assembled. Chrysler seeks to give the SRT brand a boost. The Viper is considered by its halo vehicle, the SRT, as its only vehicle to attain this goal.

Previous Vipers were street-legal race cars that were powered by a 600-hp V-10. Chrysler has given several hints about the redesigned car. In 2001, Ron Zarrella, the president of GM North America back then, said that GM is seriously thinking about expanding the Corvette model line to two separate, distinct models. GM had considered building a car with unique body panels and an engine that has a lot higher hp than the "regular" Corvette. This would also have had a six-figure price tag.

This "super" Corvette would be very different from its weaker sibling. GM had examined the advantages and disadvantages of separating Corvette from Chevrolet and making a separate brand and a separate franchise. Since the inception of Corvette in 1953, it had been offered by Chevy dealers.

In 2001, there were reports that qualified non-Chevrolet dealers may add the Corvette brand if Corvette had split from Chevrolet. It wasn’t certain if “non-Chevrolet dealers" referred to non-Chevrolet GM dealers or any dealers who didn't offer the brand. The Corvette was removed from the Chevy showroom for several reasons.

One is that Corvette isn’t a good fit to Chevrolet’s value image. Numerous Chevrolet dealers didn’t sell the car. The company also thought that Corvette would be thought of as a more exclusive product if only selected dealers sold the car, says Autonews. Selected dealers may also create an exclusive area of the showroom to display the car.

In addition, GM would be able to choose the best dealers. In 2000, Chevrolet sold 31,208 Corvettes. Its highest annual sales figure was recorded in 1977 when 42,571 units were sold. Another reason is that GM sought to tap better-skilled dealers to sell a car that’s priced at higher than $100,000. We all now know that the plan to have a two-tier Corvette line wasn’t realized and GM didn’t separate Corvette from Chevrolet.

Shortly after this decision, Bob Lutz was appointed as GM vice chairman and product guru. About a month later, Zarrella left GM and Lutz didn’t pursue this plan. Many wonder if Corvette would get more success as a separate brand with an expanded product line, which is sold mostly by non-Chevrolet dealers. In 2011, Chevy dealers sold just 13,164 Corvettes.

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