Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter: Motoramic Q&A
In the six decades Chevrolet has built the Corvette, only five men have served as its chief engineer. None have overseen a transformation quite like the one current chief Tadge Juechter engineered for that the 2014 Corvette Stingray, mixing the traditional idea of a low-slung, V-8-powered sports car with the newest technology available. In this interview at the New York auto show — using questions solicited from Motoramic readers online — Juechter reveals the drive behind the controversial design changes, the engine that his team passed up and the new bit of NASA technology now baked into every car.
When the new Vette was revealed, the tail lights got a lot of attention...
More on the Internet than in person. I've been standing around this car for a couple of months now, in this case today side-by-side with a Camaro. People who see them in person say "this is pretty cool," espeically when they're lit up, especially outside. They're very three-dimensional, very jewel-like.
Live, I don't hear the complaints. The Internet can boil over with people chiming in. Until you've see the car in person...it's just so much noise. We got rid of pop up headlamps on the C6, and it was the end of the world. How could you get rid of pop-up headlamps? They got over it in a hurry.
How much debate was there internally over the change?
We knew we wanted to do something different. When we cliniced customers, especially on the coasts — because even though we're the best-selling sports car, we underperform relative to the nationwide average, and we'd like to do better on the coasts — one of the proof points for people was they felt the Corvette had not changed, all the way from the C4, they felt it hadn't been upgraded. Knowledgeable car people knew the car had major upgrades, but it didn't get on people's radar screens because every time they pulled up behind a Corvette they saw what looked to them ... they brought pictures of a C4, C5, C6, and said it's old tech, it's the same Corvette from my youth, it's not very sophisticated, you haven't changed it. That's why we felt comfortable walking away a little bit from what we've done, traditionally. The big debate was how far do you walk away.
We're spending a lot of money on LEDs. They're great when you have a car that can set magazine records for braking distances -- that fraction of a second counts. We're could have made these LEDs look like traditional Corvette incadescent lamps, which are very light and very cheap.
In the end, we took a risk. You look at the whole car, and the resulting impression of the whole car is "wow, this thing is new." It's a Stingray now. The feedback we're getting now is people who would never consider a Corvette will consider a Stingray.
Has the Stingray gone around the Nürburgring?
No. That's the last thing we do. We do all our development testing here, at Milford. We go to Road Atlanta and VIR (Virginia International Raceway), a whole bunch of different tracks. The last thing we do is go to Nurburgring. Other people make a much bigger deal out of the Ring than we do. If we go every couple of years, that's a big deal for us. We don't go for fast laps. We go for chassis development, tuning, making sure the car is hardened to that track, so you have no failures...and if we have time, which we almost never do, we'll get one or two fast laps in at the end of the day. We did one lap on the Z06 to set the 7:22, and two laps in the ZR1 to set the 7:19. Other people rent the track and get Formula 1 level drivers and, you know, whatever it takes. It's a corporate mission to post a lap time. For us, it's not a corporate mission.