A materials-driven sports car

  • 06-Oct-2009 02:42 EDT
2010 Corvette Grand Sport.jpg
"It's my job to obsolete the current car. So as good as we've done in the past, we've got to exceed our previous best and make people want the new one," said Chevy Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter. The latest version is the 2010 Corvette Grand Sport (shown). The current, sixth-generation Corvette has been in production since 2005.

The chief engineer of the Chevrolet Corvette is tight-lipped about when the next-generation vehicle will debut but not completely mum about the sports car's material makeup.

"Corvettes have been composites-based cars since 1953, and the car has been a test bed for different materials throughout that time," Tadge Juechter, Vehicle Line Director and Chief Engineer for Chevrolet Corvette, said during a recent one-on-one interview with AEI.

Since the Corvette's debut, few materials have been off-limits.

"We did titanium exhausts on the previous-generation Z06, and we have titanium connecting rods and valves. All of the traditional, near exotic, and even some of the exotic materials have been used on Corvettes mixed and matched based on the best application," said Juechter.

Even though a titanium exhaust appeared on the fifth-generation Corvette Z06, a repeat application did not materialize in the successor model.

"Everybody thought when we came out with the next-generation car there would again be a titanium exhaust," Juechter said. "Back when we did the C5 Z06, they were melting down Russian submarines, so the market was flooded with titanium and it was relatively affordable.

"We got the raw material supplier to give it to us at cost, and we got the fabricator who assembled the exhaust system to give it to us at cost as an experiment because everybody wanted to get into titanium parts. But unfortunately the price of titanium tripled after that. So by the time the next generation came around, the whole paradigm had shifted," he explained.

While metallic and nonmetallic materials have been omnipresent on Corvette, Juechter (who has been the sports car's chief engineer since 2006 and the assistant chief engineer since 1993) pointed out that material selection is not haphazard.

"It's not our goal to have as many different materials on the car as we can. We want the car to be extremely mass-efficient and relatively affordable, so depending on the price point that determines what kind of materials are affordable to make the parts out of," Juechter said.

After continually sidestepping questions about the seventh-generation Corvette, Juechter was coy about his answer as to whether lithium-ion is in Corvette's future.

"We would never take anything off the table. Hybrid could be a consideration, but we really don't want to add two separate powertrains—an internal-combustion engine and an electric motor and a bunch of batteries—to a sports car," Juechter said, expressing that extra weight is not a good thing.

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