Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been into cars. As I’ve gotten older not much has changed. One particular model has always had a soft spot in my heart. The Chevrolet Corvette. I remember seeing pictures of them in my dad’s car magazines. Heck even the astronauts from the Apollo moon missions drove them. They are sleek, fast, and the low rumble of a V8 cannot be surpassed. Last night, July 18th, Chevrolet launched the next iteration of the iconic nameplate and this is one for the ages. Being a Corvette guy it only seems natural that I would write about it here. As a business person this particular launch is monumental.
Corvette is one of the longest running nameplates in automotive history. Harley Earl created the car in 1953 to address the demand GI’s from WWII had for a performance sports car like they saw in Europe. The Corvette was revolutionary for its time. Made out of a revolutionary material called fiberglass, the car was lighter than the steel vehicles of the time. When it launched, it wasn’t an instant success. Only 300 were made in the first year of production, and only a few thousand the following year. It looked like the Corvette was going to be done before the wheels got rolling.
In 1955 things changed when Harley brought in the man who changed Corvette forever: Zara Arkus-Duntov The Godfather of the Corvette. He made significant performance changes by adding a V8 and manual transmission to move the car into the performance realm, and sales started to take off.
Fast forward to 2014. The new C7 has just launched. Chevrolet is facing a challenge. The Corvette owner has been aging and the viability of the brand is at risk. As of the date of this blog, the average Corvette owner is 62 and at the moment that average continues to creep up. Unless you are in the assisted living or funeral industry, you would prefer to have your target age be much younger. This is not a unique problem in the automotive industry. Many sports cars like Porsche and motorcycles like Harley are experiencing the same issue. Their loyal brand advocates are getting older…and dying. Younger generations that see something as an old person’s toy are less likely to jump in and own one. I’ve had a Corvette since I was 28. Even then, I was often one of the youngest in the circle of Corvette friends I know. This week I turned 50 and I am still way younger than many owners.
In an earlier blog I spoke about taking your Moonshot and this year, for this generation of car, Chevrolet did just that. For the first time since its inception, the Corvette is a mid-engine design. While you can still see the traits of generations past, this model is far and away different from previous generations. To say the feedback has been polarizing is an understatement. Online, many of the brand loyalists are complaining about the change even to the point of saying, “not my Corvette.” GM and Chevrolet are taking a big risk with their radical design because they needed to.
The question is, if you knew you needed to change what you are doing, would you? Even if that meant radical change? Surprisingly the answer for most is no. Many owners would rather live in the past and what worked instead of changing for the future. Many times this means riding a sinking ship all the way down. GM bet the farm. They risk alienating their brand loyalists for the sake of finding a newer, younger audience. The future hasn’t been written yet and only time will tell if they did it right. The question is what are you prepared to change about your business to stay relevant?