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[Press] Automobile Magazine Interview - Dave Hill on C6


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Staff member
Sep 16, 2000
New Hampshire
1990 Corvette ZR-1
Automobile Magazine: What's your official title?

Dave Hill: I'm the vehicle line executive for GM's performance cars and I'm also the Corvette chief engineer.

Automobile Magazine: So that includes XLR.

Dave Hill: We're doing the XLR and the Corvette; they're our present new programs.

Automobile Magazine: What makes a Corvette a Corvette?

Dave Hill: It's really kind of proud that we're here at the conclusion of 50 years when we've been making this car better and truer to its mission as America's performance icon. I'm very proud that GM has stuck with this car and continued to improve it and move it from America's sports car to a real world-class effort.

I think that the three things that combine to make a Corvette very special and not matched by any other car is passionate American design: When you look at a Corvette—it doesn't matter which of the 50 years—it's got soul, it's got passion, it's got style. It's been especially true when we're celebrating these 50 years and sometimes we see all 50 years together in one venue that every year of the Corvette has had this passionate American design where you can tell the people who lavished their care on it really were out to create something that's very special and stood for America's love for cars.

The second thing is that Corvettes have always stood for state-of-the-art performance technology. And not technology just for its own sake, but tech to go fast and be safe and no matter what year of the Corvette you'll find it was trying to be right out there on the edge in terms of go-fast tech, And that makes it worth its reason for being.

And then I think the third real compelling thing is great value. Many people can own and many people can aspire to own it. A Corvette is a really aspirational vehicle. We've got customers who can afford to buy anything that's out there and we've got other customers for whom a new Corvette is maybe the reward for a lifetime of striving and trying to succeed. So Corvette is a realizable dream for people and a really important part of what we do is to deliver great value in the car.

Automobile Magazine: You said something really interesting back there. The Corvette has gone from an American icon to the world-beating proposition of value and performance. I know there was some talk at GM—after C4—about killing the car off because its volume was so low and for a host of other reasons. Did you guys sell C5 by positioning it as an international sports car?

Dave Hill: No, not really. But what we had to do in order to win the concept's approval from the North American strategy board—back in '93 when things were pretty darn grim—we had to show that we could basically reinvent the Corvette and make it a successful business. They had to have some faith that if we would do so, we would get more customers. And sure enough, we got at least 50 percent more customers with this car than with the prior car. It was an act of faith to some extent on the part of Jack Smith. But [the Corvette] was not to become an international marque as much as it was to, y'know we had to do a lot of things about the business to get it to be a success. In the past, it really wasn't. We weren't selling enough cars. Today, it's very successful and we're enjoying an excellent market share, and selling more cars overseas in the bargain.

Automobile Magazine: There's a quantum leap between the C4 and the C5, especially the Z06. What do you think contributed to the C4's decline and flagging popularity and what do you think has made the C5 such s success, over and above the normal Corvette attributes?

Dave Hill: Well, I wouldn't call the C4 a disappointment in the sense that it had to last 13 years, which is a huge amount of time in this end of the business where newness is what the segment thrives on. The C4 not only lasted 13 years but it sent some Pacific Rim vehicles back outside of our borders because during the lifetime of the C4, Toyota, Mazda, and Nissan pulled out of the segment. So that was all done with the C4. It was no slouch, but I would say there are some fundamentals about the C5 that are better. It uses space very effectively. One thing people love about the C5 is that big American people, with all the stuff that they carry with them when they go on a holiday, can fit inside the Corvette—even the convertible. That was one big deal. Another one was the structural integrity that we put into the car. It has a patented structure not shared with any[other car], which gives it a very strong, rigid feel about the body structure, even when the top is down or removed. That makes [the C5] feel much more substantial than Corvettes past.

Automobile Magazine: That's the balsa wood X-frame?

Dave Hill: It has this hydroformed perimeter frame, which goes from one end of the car to the other, one piece of steel hydroformed into the outside frame rail shape. And then it has an enclosed space in the middle of the car that resists the twist that's the nemesis of open cars. That structure together is patented. And it really is very stiff and very light. It not only feels more substantial, but it goes better because it's a lighter car than the C4.

Automobile Magazine: My favorite era of the car was '63 to '67, and I think the C5 is better and more rewarding in a lot of ways than even those. What is your favorite era?

Dave Hill: Well, I have to tell you that the new one we're working on now that'll debut in '05, is my hands-down favorite, because I'm always living in the future. If I had to live in the past, I would join you and say that those mid-year cars—the '63 through '67—they really had it all in terms of passionate design. Very good tech for the time. They were unique and they had good human accommodations. I find so many people who like the mid-year cars, then they didn't like the Corvette as much, or were forced out of the Corvette by size and then they came back as a C5 owner and they're in love with the car again. Actually the mid-year was the high-point, in our history, that was a very strong time for the car. And we're back to another very strong time. The men and women of Team Corvette are doing their utmost to make this 50th year the best year we've ever had and so far the measurables are turning out pretty good. We're at a 32 percent market share right now, which is very good for us because previously we've been capacity-constrained and couldn't make enough and now the business is off a little bit with 9/11, and we're more able to keep up with demand but the 32 percent market share is quite excellent. It's pulling upward of GM's share ambitions and the quality is the other thing. That's one of the things of which we're very very proud: that the JD Power IQS has rated the Corvette best in the premium sports-car category two years in a row. And we've actually widened the gap with the cars in our segment. And that makes us very proud, because we've got excellent competitors from Germany and Japan. But for the second year in a row—and by statistically significant margin—the Corvette is the best and we're working on cars today that are even better than the car that won those awards last year. I think it's irrefutable now that the Corvette really does have world-class quality and is producing a more trouble-free car than the cars from the best manufacturers elsewhere in the world.

Automobile Magazine: How is the C6 going to improve on the C5?

Dave Hill: It was a real daunting challenge, I gotta' tell you. We said, "How are we going to create the replacement for this thing because we've put everything that we possibly could put into it when it was new in '97, and we've never stopped improving it year after year." And most everybody who's got one is really in love with it. What we're going to do is make it like the C5 except more so. More passionate design, more performance, just as much room on the inside and maybe a little tidier on the outside. And we're going to take care of every last thing that we've heard of that people find that they're not totally satisfied with. We believe that we know that list backwards and forwards and we're going to eliminate everything that is not totally satisfying in the C5.

Automobile Magazine: Does that mean interior?

Dave Hill: We have a lot of concentration on the interior, which when we brought out the C5 we moved the Corvette interior from arguably the worst-in-class human factors and we got it to be the best-in-class human factors for its day when it came out in '97. But the bar is really being raised on interior richness and perfection and we know that's an area where the C6 is gonna have a big step forward: in a classier, more worthy, more perfect, richer, warmer, and more inviting interior. So there is a lot of concentration on the interior, not that we have to fix the space, which is about ideal on the car, but we're gonna try to upgrade the worthiness of the interior and we're quite satisfied with how that's coming along.

Automobile Magazine: Which manufacturers do you respect in terms of interior quality?

Dave Hill: I would say that on a value basis Audi would be leading the race to finer and finer interiors. However, I don't think the TT is particularly handsome right in our sports-car class. I think when you look at the portfolio of Audi products, they're delivering top results at their price point. And everybody's chasing after them. I'd say they're the best.

Automobile Magazine: If I could just pull back a little bit and talk historically about the car. Could you give me a kind of condensed history of the Corvette, generation by generation? Highs and lows?

Dave Hill: Ooooh. Wow. That's kind of hard to do off the top of my head, but let me wing it. There were these auto-show cars and these motorama cars after the war and in the early '50s and everybody was doing stuff, GM was probably doing more than most. But the Corvette was remarkable in that it went all the way into production really fast. The '53 Corvette was just a fantastic accomplishment in terms of a very well done design that had stood the test of time. And went into production very very fast. But it was also pretty hasty and they just took stuff that they had lying around and slapped this car together, chassis-wise and powertrain-wise. Ed Cole and the Chevy small block V-8 was a fantastic accomplishment. In all the '50s there probably isn't anything more important in the whole industry than the Chevy small block that came in the '55 Corvette. It was Zora working on the vehicle integration for the first time the Corvette really got on the map in '56 when they had a few things coming together with a decent engine and a decent transmission and some window sealing and stuff that the car didn't have when it was new. By that time it was clear demarcation that Ford was going for the volume and Chevy was going for a real sports car. From that point the cars were clearly distinct. Ford was more successful commercially, and they kept chasing the volume while Chevy really kept improving the product in a world-class sports-car era. So I think the '53 and the '56 were the Corvette.

Then, Corvette got a little crazy in '58 going in the wrong direction with a bigger car. Like in 1958 everybody had tons of chrome on their car. And the 58 Corvette wasn't that much out of character with the whole Detroit set, where the '58 Corvette was bigger and had more brightwork on it, yet still people like the '58 Corvette. It certainly was not Zora's favorite car. Then they began to reel it back and get more simplicity in the design as the C1 finished up its time in '62. It was pretty handsome by then, but still a relatively old-fashioned straight-axle chassis. It's interesting. You look at the car and the car looks like you could be happy driving it today. Then you get in it and you drive it and you say, "Ohmygod! I can't believe how people used to drive these things and think they were cool." That Corvette is a handful and far more engine than the rest of the vehicle was able to sustain. When you think about racers driving those cars flat out and the brakes they didn't have... Those folks were really courageous. The C1 high points were the '56 where they got the V-8 going, the '57 Fuelie.

Then I think the '63 and '67 that you and I both like, the StingRay, it was a great advance in tech. With the IRS and disc brakes and the style. It was very compelling style. And that was a great car because it had really wonderful accommodations—the coupe and convertible choice. Unfortunately the convertible lost the trunk and the trunk wouldn't come back until 1998. But the C2 was a very compelling car.

Automobile Magazine: And then you had the big block.

Dave Hill: Yeah, the big block made a lot of acceleration. I did not prefer those kinds of cars because they didn't have the balance and the overall good handling that the small block Corvette had, but big-block cars were amazing in their immediate acceleration response and the gobs of torque that they had. So the mid-year cars were everybody's favorite. Really about the only thing that was truly worn with the mid-year car is that they had this aerodynamic lift that was not good. It didn't help them, their competitiveness in real racing, but they had most everything else together. It was actually a pretty short generation, timewise, and one that's gonna keep going up and up and up in value because they're not making any more of them, but they're making more people who want them. It's just a great vintage.

The '68, the Mako Shark, had smoother, simpler lines than the '67, and it was definitely a modernization, but when you look back at its overdone shapes and the fender bulges and the cant on the top of the front fenders—the Coke-bottle shape really constrained the occupants a bit although they're really high-style cars and had a lot of customers. The coupe with the T-top was significant in that era as well as the roadster, so a lot of volume business was done in that C3 which went from '68 to '82 and sold a lot of cars with a very dramatic American style, maybe overly so by today's standards. But people loved 'em, and there wasn't anything else like 'em on the road. The first half of that generation has the all-metal bumpers and then we had to move the Corvette through the difficult transition of going to bumpers that would actually bump and we had some of the first soft fascias in the industry and some were done better than others. It was an immature technology in terms of having soft panels that were high quality and stayed that way.

So that was long generation. Then I would say that the C4, which missed the year of '83 and started with the '84, that was a substantial upgrade in all of the chassis and mechanical systems and really got the car for the first time to really world-class handling levels. Maybe overdid it and there was lot of criticism that maybe the '84 was too much of a proving grounds-developed car and not enough of a refined car and maybe the people did overdo it going for maximum lateral acceleration numbers and maybe unbalancing the car.

The '84 was maybe a little bit excessive in its chassis tuning but they worked on it aggressively, got it better, brought out a convertible in '86, and there had not been a convertible for a while and that C4 design was a little milder, not so flamboyant as its predecessor, and it really lasted. It might not have had quite enough passion to stir the imagination, but it was a very successful car that lasted for many years, from '84 to '96. And there was a ZR1 in there for a while which had a very expensive engine but probably not enough differentiation from the rest of the Corvettes being sold. Not too long after the ZR1 came out, the pushrod engine was upgraded greatly in '92 with the LT1 engine and that took some of the steam out of the ZR1 and the ZR1 turning out to be kind of an unsuccessful business because they sold quite a number of cars in the first year but then not so many after the pushrod engine was improved and it finally went away in '95.

When I arrived, the first car I had an influence on was the '94. We kept working to make it better and by the time the C4 was finished in '96 it was a pretty respectable car. And as I say, it did send the rice burners back on the boat.

Automobile Magazine: It's funny that the pushrod engine knocked the OHC engine off the block. The advancements to the LT1 with the economy and drivability and its sounds, it's such a great engine, you're like, "Why do I need the complexity?"

Dave Hill: So the C5, which was like we said when we brought it out, the most new Corvette that there ever was even in comparison to the original '53 because it was clean-sheet everything. Body structure, powertrain, the layout, the style, all-new interior, nothing shared with its predecessor except the shift knob. It had the revolutionary use of space, the structural integrity, total modernization of the pushrod engine to bring it right up to the level of the finest 20th century engines with a lot more specific output, especially on the high end, and really good fuel efficiency. We thought that we did a lot of good work on making the C5 a good handling car that was surprisingly comfortable. Kinda' like a car that could do many things well and I think that's one of the key features of the C5. It's easy to drive. You can go surprisingly fast in it, but you can also travel 500 miles in a sitting and feel like you can do another 500 right after. We tried to make the car very easy on the occupants, quick but very comfortable and I think we succeeded. And then the human factors. The C5 was the first car where we got rid of the goofy stuff that was just there for the sake of style—like Flash Gordon instrumentation—and we just put stuff in that worked—controls where they should be, very close attention to the layout and used conventional instrumentation but done very well. So the C5 was kinda' like reinventing the Corvette and then just before it and just after it a lot of European cars came into the segment, which were more full-flavored than the outgoing Japanese cars and the whole segment kind of reinvented itself between 1995 and 2000. It doubled in size, with an influx of products from Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. And the Corvette immediately got the strongest-car-in-its-segment honors, but the Corvette was helped by the influx of Euro cars because there were more people interested in sports cars, and they were all more well-rounded cars than sports cars used to be. There were more daily drivers, and all boats rose with the influx of the European cars.

Automobile Magazine: And you guys had the only V-8, so that helped.

Dave Hill: The C5 has been a terrific ride, and we have never stopped putting everything we had into it on an annual basis of improvements. GM has been very supportive of us keeping the Corvette moving. I would say some of the landmarks during the life of the C5 have been the stability system we call Active Handling, which is more powerful and less intrusive than any other stability system that we benchmarked. We brought it out in '98 and made it standard in '01.

The Z06 kinda breathed new life into the C5 halfway through its lifetime because here was a car that really optimized for the total performance enthusiast, someone willing to trade off some creature comforts to get total performance, but it remains a car that's very easy to drive and very quick but very safe and easy to use as a daily driver if you don't live in Minnesota. The Z06 has been real successful. It started out at 15 percent and has grown to a 25 percent share.

The Corvette might not be the absolute quickest car in this measurement here or that measurement there, but when you take it all together, the Z06 does many things very well, and on a track, lap after lap, it's the car that's gonna turn in the quickest total time and be easier on the driver doing so. So it's a very well rounded car, very high performance car. But that's total performance, not just straight-line. And it's also a terrific value. So we've been really pleased.

Automobile Magazine: The Z06 feels like it was designed by guys who take their cars to the track, guys who really understand on-track dynamics and gearing. Are you a gymkhana guy?

Dave Hill: I raced competitively when I was younger. I raced a Lotus Super Seven. I'm able to evaluate a car at its limit and we've got people who are more into [racing] currently than I am, but everybody in the Corvette team is very much into great handling cars and we try to get the very best we can into the cars we produce. We've got a wonderful group of people who love working on it and they want to stay in this part of GM.

I think when you sum it up, it's hard to find a time in our 50-year history when things have been any more positive for the Corvette than they are right now. We're really proud of the role that we play in GM as its performance flagship and we do good business for the company and I think we reflect well on the rest of Corvette portfolio. The truck domination that GM has now regained, you can bring it back to the small-block V-8 which gets to be as good as it is because of the Corvette, but it makes our trucks the best trucks on the road, too. The Corvettes does a lot more than just taking care of our sports car business, it's kinda' like a technology proving ground for many things that happen in GM. And we're really proud of the role that we play.
Cool post..great news..

It sounds like the C6 will be everything the C5 is and more.

From what we've all speculated on up to this point...

Great interior...maybe Timet titanium coil springs..matched with an evolution of F55 active shocks..better braking system..maybe composite rotors..(just guessing)

Better lighting..

6.0 and 6.4 liter monster motors..5 speed automatics and refined 6 speed manuals..(maybe dual clutch computer activated at some point in time)

New design Michelin pax type runflats for the coupes and convertibles......

Slightly shorter overall length and slightly longer wheelbase..

Flush tailight assemblies to get rid of the cars ability to instantanously accumulate dirt in the 4 grooved tailights the C5 has..

I am so pleased with the C5 as it is..Its hard to imagine it actually evolving into something better..

Did I leave any speculation out ????
I would like to see them bring back a "big block" version. maybe a reworked Vortec 8100??

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