For 70 years, the Chevrolet Corvette has been known as America’s sports car. The long hood ‘Vette was what every red-blooded American, male or female, dreamed of owning. Legendary author Joan Didion, for example, loved the Corvette, and owned multiple examples throughout her life.
Part and parcel to that story was the powerful V8 that gave the Corvette its heart — and robust, loud tailpipe roar. Don’t even think about suggesting that Chevy put a damper on the volume coming from that 8-cylinder.
That said, Corvette is dipping its toes into the future with the electrified E-Ray. Yahoo Finance was invited to Bowling Green, Ky., where the Corvette was assembled, to get an exclusive look at the first ever E-Ray rolling off the assembly line.
What is the E-Ray?
The E-Ray is the first Corvette with all-wheel drive, with its front wheels powered by an electric motor. The hybrid setup features this electric motor paired with the V8 mounted in the rear of the vehicle, giving this car over 650 horsepower — making it the quickest ‘Vette yet, capable of a zero to 60 time of 2.5 seconds.
The E-Ray’s all-wheel-drive system means this is a Corvette for all seasons, including winter. Corvette engineers tested the car in the mountains of Colorado, with the E-Ray powering through even snowy conditions.
The 1.9 kilowatt hour battery utilized by the E-Ray is small, but it does have the ability to discharge a lot of energy and recharge itself fairly quickly — more so than normal hybrids. The battery is also capable of giving the car around three to four miles of range, which is good for shuttling the E-Ray around town on very short trips. The E-Ray isn’t meant for long-distance electric driving — it’s a car meant for performance, with the motor filling the gaps in low-torque situations, improving handling at the limit, and, as mentioned above, giving the car the ability to be driven year-round.
At the factory
GM’s general assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky., builds only one car: the Corvette. GM’s halo sports car has been produced here since 1981, starting with the fourth generation Corvette (known as the “C4”), through the current-gen Corvette, the C8.
And it’s here where the first-ever E-Ray is rolling off the production line.
Thousands of people work together, with the help of robots and a mechanical roof-mounted rack, bringing parts and partially assembled structures together. That leads to a “marriage” of main components leading to a fully assembled Corvette — whether it’s a base Stingray, race-inspired Z06, or the new E-Ray.
“Corvette’s good at rear-wheel drive. We’ve always done it. All of our tooling in the plant set up so that way all your drive-line components, everything assembled to perfection in the rear,” said Andrew Keltner, GM’s general assembly future produce lead (essentially the man in charge), who during our interview was standing behind the first ever E-Ray off the line. VIN number one. This all-black model sold for over $1 million at a charity auction.
But making the E-Ray, and retooling the factory, wasn’t so simple. “We’ve had to actually shift our manufacturing process to now cover both the front and rear, right? You got drive line in the front with the electric motor separately from the drive line in the rear with that V8 engine,” he said. “So really a challenge for us setting that up.”
Part of that challenge means introducing a few spots in the line where E-Rays — which roll on the same line as other, non-electrified ‘Vettes — get their electric motor installed on the front axle. A battery is then added in the middle tunnel of the car that separates the driver and passenger in the cockpit. Keltner said the “dream” of the C8 always included the E-Ray, so the internal chassis made for the C8 was designed with electrification in mind.
“The package space that the product engineers provided, it was there,” Keltner said, alluding to the tunnel that was used to bisect the cabin and make space for the battery. “Just like with the product engineering being available … we created holes in the assembly line for our tools to load that 300-volt battery up into the car. So a lot of things we took into consideration with the C8, knowing the future was coming with that all-wheel drive electric [drivetrain].”
Does the electric dream mean a harsh reality on the road?
Exterior-wise the E-Ray looks like a regular Corvette, except that it features the high-performance Z06 Corvette’s wide body kit (which is a very good thing). There is E-Ray badging on the side of the car, but otherwise the car is not advertising its special drivetrain. Inside the cabin it’s all jet-fighter cockpit-like (just like the regular C8), but Chevy gives you some special virtual gauges for visualizing power use and drive modes for the hybrid ‘Vette (hybrid mode, E-save mode for conserving electric power, and aggressive, all-out driving modes like Sport and Track, to name a few).
I have driven the regular Corvette C8, which is a wonderful sports car, but the E-Ray just feels like it’s driving on rails; it feels that planted and in control.
The car has the ability with software to give you the best traction with the all-wheel-drive system, spinning the outer wheel more on sharp curves, giving the car immense grip and immediate boost when you need it.
When combined with the 6.2 liter V8, it’s almost like the car has rocket power.
As Car and Driver magazine points out, zero to 60mph in 2.5 seconds is no joke. The Corvette snaps your head back when launching off the line — with no time to catch your breath.
The 1.9 kilowatt hour battery that sits between the driver and passenger in the center tunnel is a high-output, high-discharge, high-recharge type of battery that’s able to give a lot of power to that electric motor — and then recharge itself very quickly through the braking of the front wheels.
That GM and Chevy can offer this car at a starting price of $105,000 (approximately $115K as tested), is a quite a feat of engineering and supply chain expertise.
What the future (and competition) hold for Corvette
But the Corvette E-Ray isn’t the only hybrid super sports car on the road. The McLaren Artura is one, as well as the world-beating . But while the Artura and 296 are great, the two cars cost twice as much as the E-Ray. The only competitor that comes somewhat close is the Acura NSX hybrid, but Acura discontinued the NSX last year.
Cars like the upcoming Porsche 911 hybrid and Mercedes SL 63 E Performance promise more competition. But the E-Ray has a lot going for it: the all-wheel drive system that other competitors lack, for one thing. And then there’s that passionate fan base, which cherishes the 70 years of history.
Case in point: Every Corvette that we saw roll off the assembly line in Bowling Green has already been spoken for. GM said it has customer order after customer order that needs to be fulfilled, whether it’s for the standard C8 Stingray, the high-revving Z06, or the futuristic E-Ray.
“I think the reason that people really, you know, love this car and wanna drive this car is because it represents what we love about driving: the speed and the performance,” said Bryan Gable, the curator of the Corvette Museum, which is a short drive away from the assembly plant.
It will be interesting to see what the next 70 years of Corvette will have in store.
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