More than 50 years after General Motors Corp.'s Corvette sports car made its debut, its makers still are learning how best to produce it.
For the sixth-generation Chevrolet Corvette, which is debuting at the North American International Auto Show this week in Detroit, that means tweaking the molding process to create better fit to the composite body panels.
``We're doing more with the tooling,'' Dave Hill, the GM vehicle line executive who oversees the Corvette, said in a Jan. 5 interview before the show, which runs Jan. 10-19. ``There are a lot of fit and finish issues that we're learning how to carry over.''
Launch of the 2005 model later this year is an important milestone for the Detroit automaker, since Corvette is a consistent icon as well as one of the most desired American-made vehicles on the road. Its introduction was a highlight of the auto show.
``The response has been great,'' Hill said. ``It goes without saying that we're very, very happy.''
The vehicle has been a hallmark for the plastics industry throughout its history, made of fiberglass from its first models. The new version retains a sheet molding compound outer body as well as composite flooring.
But Hill noted that the carmaker and its suppliers also are using techniques developed for the 2003 launch of Corvette's sister sports car, the Cadillac XLR. To create a tighter fit and crisper lines, workers on the XLR carefully shifted freshly molded panels onto a special fixture to prevent warping or distortions.
``The things we learned in developing the Cadillac have allowed us to get to a higher level of surface perfection than we've had in the past,'' Hill said.
Higher-technology materials may not be part of the new standard Corvette, but plans are under way for special-edition vehicles, he said. Carbon fiber is being used on 2004 Z06 Commemorative Edition Corvettes.
``We're looking at using the Z06 for our advanced programs,'' he said.
GM's two concept cars at the auto show also shared a body heritage with the Corvette, with both the Saturn Curve and Chevrolet Nomad using fiberglass for their sports car bodies.
Executives have not stated any plans to build either car, but the concept models were built on a new rear-wheel-drive sports car platform, called the Kappa architecture. The automaker built that platform for the future Pontiac Solstice, which began as a concept car in 2001 and will hit the roads within a year.