There's an elite group of sports cars in America that have reached iconic status over the decades. That group includes General Motors' (NYSE: GM ) Chevy Corvette. For fans of the sports car, it's been a sad few decades in which sales have steadily declined from their peak popularity. However, as America's largest automaker continues to refresh its vehicle lineups, there's hope that the Corvette can make a comeback. Sales of the all-new Corvette Stingray have been soaring over the past year; are they here to stay, and what's it mean for car buyers and investors alike?
What's in it for car buyers?
To put it bluntly, car buyers are getting one heck of a vehicle. The 2014 Corvette Stingray's all-new LT1 6.2L V-8 engine cranks out 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque and is plenty more than you'll need for racing that tricked-out Honda Civic that just rolled up to the stop light. GM estimates that the Corvette will run from 0 to 60 in less than four seconds.
Just this week the Corvette Stingray was named 2014 North American Car of the Year, and the new ride has seemed to squash years of complaints about having a plain interior design.
You can see the 8-inch infotainment screen, which features the Chevrolet "MyLink" system, and the Stingray also boasts a nine-speaker Bose audio system that's normally found in luxury models. Not including features you'll have to pay up for, standard models will still have some perks:
- Seating with lightweight magnesium frames for exceptional support, and eight-way power adjustment.
- A five-position Drive Mode Selector that tailors up to 12 vehicle attributes.
- A new seven-speed manual transmission with "Active Rev Matching."
- A carbon fiber hood on all models, and a carbon fiber removable roof panel on coupes.
- Advanced high-intensity discharge and light-emitting diode lighting.
- Keyless access with push-button start.
- Power tilt/telescope steering wheel.
The new Stingray has seen a recent surge of sales, but are those sales here to stay? More importantly, will this help General Motors improve its profitability?
What's in it for investors
If you take the last quarter of sales and apply that pace to the full year, which will probably be higher than actual results, Corvette sales could hit around 37,000. For comparison, sales in 2012 and 2013 totaled roughly 14,000 and 17,000, respectively. While the recent surge in sales has been a huge improvement, even at higher levels from pent-up demand the Corvette probably won't top 40,000 sales over the next year.
To help put annual Corvette sales in perspective, consider that sales of the Chevrolet Silverado topped 42,000 in December alone.
With all that said, sales of the Corvette don't need to hit peaks seen decades ago for it to be a success. The Corvette is what the automakers refer to as a halo car, a special vehicle that can drive incremental traffic to a showroom where the ever-so-polite salesmen can get you into a more realistic car for purchase.
Moreover, the Corvette may represent something more valuable for investors: insight into product development. The Corvette was one of the first vehicles the company completely designed and produced after it exited bankruptcy. It is one of a few recent vehicles that give investors insight into what we can expect from GM's new vehicles as it embarks on its most aggressive vehicle portfolio refresh in company history -- GM plans to refresh, redesign, or replace 90% of its vehicles by the end of 2016. If those vehicles continue to be as successful in generating more sales, such as the Corvette, Silverado, and Impala, it will help boost GM's fairly stagnant annual revenues.
I think the revived sales of the Corvette are here to stay and could remain around 30,000 for the years ahead. One X-factor that could boost sales further will be how the company can add technology into its design refreshes to attract a younger car buyer. Right now the average age of Corvette owners is in the mid-50s -- for comparison, buyers of similar-priced Porsches are 10 years younger.
Regardless, the Corvette is a stunning vehicle and proof that General Motors is producing better vehicles than in years past. It looks to revive sales and, maybe more importantly, drive more traffic to GM showrooms. Investors can expect the Stingray to be a success, and car buyers can expect to enjoy the ride thoroughly.
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