Five Questions: Chevy Head of Consumer Affairs James Bell

5questionsbellleadChevrolet’s recent announcement that the 2014 C7 Stingray is expected to deliver an EPA-estimated 17 miles per gallon in the city and 29 MPG on the highway (in manual transmission guise) showed just how far technology has taken the development of Chevy’s small-block pushrod V8 engines. The fuel economy figures represent an 11-percent improvement over the previous LS3-powered C6, while the LT1 offers 6-percent more power than the outgoing Gen IV engine. Keep in mind that all of this is without the cylinder deactivation feature invoked by the C7’s “Eco” mode, which bumps estimated highway miles per gallon to 30.

To promote these figures, Chevrolet’s Head of Consumer Affairs, James Bell, hit the automotive journalist talk circuit with a vengeance. We had a chance to ask him some questions about the announcement, what the LT1 will mean for Chevy as a whole, and the future of the C7 Corvette. Here’s what he had to say:

Chevy Head of Consumer Affairs James Bell

Corvette Online: How big of a factor do you think fuel economy is for someone in the market for a Corvette?

James Bell: “It’s a factor for two reasons. Number one, for a person who’s looking to buy a car like this, it may not be the first thing on their consideration list, but it is something where they want some insurance or protection – you think about the fuel price rise, and how it burned a lot of Corvette, Porsche, and Ferrari owners going back four or five years ago. Maybe that person has been out of the market since then, and they’re looking to come back in. Having a car with good fuel efficiency, that’s the cherry on top.”

“And not only is it important to the consumer, but also to the manufacturer, because CAFE regulations here in the US, and tightening emissions standards in Asia and Europe mean that any car any manufacturer is making has to contribute to that. You can’t just have economy cars doing the heavy fuel economy lifting for Chevy. Corvettes have to help, pickup trucks have to help. So it’s really a combination of people looking to have that insurance against high fuel prices, and at the same time, the manufacturers are mandated to build them.”

…the only issue is that some of the horsepower ratings we are getting out of the potential future trim levels are really almost too much for the chassis, and the platform. – James Bell

CO: Obviously, the fuel economy advantages of the Gen V family will make a big difference in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers for the truck platforms – will we see the LT1 make its way into higher-volume cars like the Camaro and Chevy SS?

Bell: “I would think so. I’m not here to confirm any new production or anything, but when you think about the investment that General Motors has made into this engine, and the ways it can be used in different displacements, I think it makes a lot of sense. The fact that we’re running all this technology – variable valve control, direct injection, and displacement control, all in one place – those are technologies people didn’t think you could do, all together in a pushrod motor. And here it is.”

CO: The LS1 led to the LS6 in the 5th gen Corvette, and we saw the LS2, LS3, LS7, and LS9 in the C6 over its run. Is there anything you can tell us about future plans for C7 models like the previous Grand Sport, Z06, and ZR1?

Bell: “I can’t confirm or deny anything here, but it would make good, logical sense, wouldn’t it? [chuckles] In fact, the only issue is that some of the horsepower ratings we are getting out of the potential future trim levels are really almost too much for the chassis, and the platform. It’s going to be a rich run with this particular car, because you’re starting off with this motor that is so efficient and flexible.”

2014CorvetteStingrayPremiere01-mediumCO: The Corvette has a pretty strong following, but what kind of a first-time ‘Vette purchaser are you envisioning for the C7? What other cars does he or she cross-shop?

Bell: “We’re pretty excited because early numbers are showing a lot of interest from a much younger buyer, as well as from female buyers. You know, the C5 and C6 Corvettes do have a stereotype – when you see them on the highway and see the average age and gender of the person driving them, well, that stereotype is probably somewhat justified. But what we’re seeing very early on with the new Corvette is people coming from much more expensive and very technologically advanced cars like the Porsche 911 and Nissan GT-R. Cars that are rich with technology but do cost you quite a bit more money. Younger buyers, as well. In fact, we’re seeing a lot of interest from 18-year-olds – this is the car they want to have up on a poster on their wall.”

“While the C6 is a great car, and a great value from the performance perspective, it was lacking in some ways, especially on the inside. Today’s younger, more aggressive buyer wants an interior that is at the same level as the rest of the package – the ability to connect infotainment to the car seamlessly the way even economy cars are doing today, and to do it all in an interior that’s beautiful to look at. You fall in love with the Corvette based on how it sounds, and how it drives, but it also better reward you on the inside. Any stigma against the interior of the C6 is long gone with the new Stingray. The needles may have been moved further in regards to the interior than anyone even expected.”

The whole focus and purpose of this car was to change perceptions, to move the Corvette into a new space.

CO: I’m sure you’re aware of the mixed reaction to the styling of the Stingray’s tail end, which seems to be the only cosmetic aspect of the car that’s not a pure home run. Is that something that’s up for review for the next update of the C7, or do you think it’s just a case of people not being used to it yet?

Bell: “The whole focus and purpose of this car was to change perceptions, to move the Corvette into a new space. To be very blunt, we expected more criticism than we’ve received. Among younger buyers, they love the way it looks, especially at nighttime. These taillights have a depth and kind of a richness to them – they kind of look like red crystal with light behind them. I don’t think you’re going to see any changes there; this is really going to be the signature look for the Corvette, and the signature look for Chevrolet. Don’t forget that the Corvette is the flagship for the brand. We can’t mess with that too much going forward.”

Since we had a bit more time left, we slipped in one bonus question…

CO: A 60-year production history for any car is extraordinary – do you think we’ll ever see the genesis of another Chevy model that has that kind of longevity?

Bell: “That’s a great question – the Chevrolet Impala is also a very long-running nameplate, as is the Suburban. The Impala has had a real renaissance, and I think it’s going to have similarly long legs. It kind of became a ‘rental car,’ and now it’s come back to something that people aspire to own and are proud to show to their friends. It’s tough to say, though. In some ways the Corvette really was ‘lightning in a bottle,’ especially the way it embodied what Chevrolet is. I think that’s what’s fun about bringing back the Stingray name on this car. It doesn’t have any compromise. Great fuel efficiency, great power, great handling – and then bounce that up against the price. It’s a great value too. It grabs every needle and shoves it forward. That’s what Chevrolet is all about.”

Special thanks go out to Mr. Bell for spending the time to answer our questions!

About the author

Paul Huizenga

After some close calls on the street in his late teens and early twenties, Paul Huizenga discovered organized drag racing and never looked back, becoming a SFI-Certified tech inspector and avid bracket racer. Formerly the editor of OverRev and Race Pages magazines, Huizenga set out on his own in 2009 to become a freelance writer and editor.
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