Why would General Motors get rid of the manual stick shift in the much-anticipated overhaul of the iconic Corvette? Drivers need a free hand for the touchscreen, of course.
PHOTO GALLERY: See the Corvette through the years in a gallery at the end of this story
With the all-new Corvette, which GM's Chevrolet division showed off outside Los Angeles late Thursday, the sports car born in the 1950s is getting a radical makeover to shove it into the modern era. The engine is transplanted to the middle of the car, making for better handling, and the manual transmission is gone, at least in the base model. Perhaps it's too hard to shift, steer and search for music on an 8-inch touchscreen, all at once.
Photos: An up-close look at the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette
The mid-engine C8, the flagship of GM's Chevrolet brand, will have the weight balance and center of gravity of a race car, rivaling European counterparts and leaving behind sports sedans and ever-more-powerful muscle cars that were getting close to outperforming the current 'Vette.
It's a sign of the times for the new Corvette, which GM hopes will find more younger buyers with the entry-level Stingray and lure the wealthy sports-car buffs who currently drive Ferraris and Lamborghinis. The risk is that older, core buyers are turned off.
While few cars even offer a manual transmission in the U.S. market, 15% of Corvette buyers opt for one. That's a big chunk of the car's buyer base.
"One thing we're worried about is no manual transmission," said Jon Thorn, editor of the Corvette Club of America's newsletter, before seeing the new car.
In its place, the Stingray will have an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. That has become the active transmission of choice among high-end European sports cars.
The new Corvette allows drivers to use the paddles and choose a specific gear, rather than just go up or down one at a time. So it operates like a manual, just without a clutch pedal and that old stick shift between the seats. With the mid-engine car, a true manual was more difficult to install and suppliers are loath to make them because volumes are low. The electronically-controlled dual clutch also changes better, said Tadge Juechter, Corvette chief engineer.
"The transmission shifts smoother and faster than any human being can," Juechter said.
The latest incarnation also packs more punch. The Stingray gets a horsepower boost to 495 from 460. And with the Z51 performance package, the car will hit 60 miles per hour in less than 3 seconds.
That's the fastest-ever Corvette and about as quick off the mark as a Lamborghini Huracan, which sells for around $240,000.
"It's the Corvette version of a supercar that we always wanted to see," GM President Mark Reuss said. The exact price hasn't been disclosed, but Reuss said the Stingray model will start at less than $60,000 in the U.S.
The biggest improvement for sports-car nerds is the mid-engine layout. With the motor planted behind the driver, who sits almost on top of the front axle, the car should have much better balance. GM needed to do that to improve the sporty ride, Reuss said.
Corvette is matching Tesla Inc.'s electric cars with over-the-air updates. Right now, if Tesla wants to add features, or upgrade the software that runs the cars, the company just sends it over the air, with no need to visit a dealer. GM hasn't specified what can be updated remotely.
The car also has a display in the dash that can be reconfigured to show gauges and driver information in a different order. It's another nice touch for a generation that grew up using smartphones and playing video games.
Still, removing the stick shows the tightrope Chevy is walking as it tries to bridge a generation and keep older purists happy while attracting the young. Rumors had been circulating for months before confirmation that the gear stick was history.
"If they don't have a manual, it's malpractice," said Eric Noble, president of The CarLab, a consulting firm in Orange, California. "That's still a lot of buyers that they could potentially lose."
With some more modern gadgetry, GM is hoping to bring some new people in.