Branding: Making Corvettes to Sell Malibus?

Chevrolet unveiled its new 2014 Corvette at the Detroit Auto Show on Sunday–and while the new model boasts gas-and-speed-friendly features and an updated look, it remains, without a doubt, a Corvette.

The 2014 model pays homage to its ancestors by reviving the retro Stingray name, but chief engineer Tadge Juechter made clear that this is a car for the 21st century: “We don’t want to do retro…we don’t want to go back and do like some manufacturers [and] go relive the glory days.”

While the Corvette, which celebrates its 60th birthday this year, is not nearly Chevy’s best-selling car (the company barely sold 12,000 last year), the iconic (if impractical) muscle car is an integral part of the company’s branding.

Brian Moody of AutoTrader says, “It’s almost like a rolling billboard for the company, for the attitude of the company [and] the spirit of the company”. He went on to say that the purpose of building a high-performance sports car like the Corvette isn’t actually to sell a lot of Corvettes, but to sell more Impalas and Malibus.

That’s not to say, however, that Chevy isn’t invested in expanding the Corvette-buying market.

“The big challenge is to find new customers,” says Eric Gustafson, editor of Corvette Magazine, “and not only new customers now, but new customers that are going to buy the car in 10 years.”

In other words, because the Corvette fanclub–however devoted–is aging, Chevy is hoping that this new, sleek model will catch the eyes not just of current car-buyers, but of teenagers lusting after their future dream cars, thereby making Corvette the top-of-mind choice for young muscle car enthusiasts and future buyers.

Only time will tell whether the country’s roughly 600 Corvette clubs will see an influx of young blood, but General Motors CEO Dan Akerson seems enthusiastic and optimistic, saying of the new model, “It’s a beautiful car. It’s a real statement about the new GM, today’s GM. And it’s a statement about Chevrolet and our prospects.”