In some ways, Chevrolet’s new Corvette E-Ray is pretty cool. “In 1953, the enthusiastic reaction to the Chevrolet Corvette concept kicked off seven decades of passion, performance and American ingenuity,” said Mark Reuss, General Motors president. “E-Ray, as the first electrified, all-wheel-drive Corvette, takes it a step further and expands the promise of what Corvette can deliver.”
The Corvette is renowned for its powerful low-end torque, and the E-Ray lives up to this reputation. It boasts a 6.2L LT2 V-8 Small Block engine that provides 495 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque to the rear axle, alongside an electric motor with 160 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque that propels the front wheels via a 1.9 kWh battery pack situated between the seats — resulting in an impressive combined output of 655 horsepower.
What makes this setup neat is that there’s no driveline pushing power from the rear of the car to the front wheels. The mid-engined car normally only puts power to the rear wheels, so a traditional way to get power up to the front wheels for an all-wheel drive system would have been to have a power takeoff shaft of some kind exit the transaxle and turn a differential in the front. Instead, Chevrolet just ran some big wires up to the front axle to power an electric motor, saving not only mechanical complexity, but probably cost, too.
This dual drivetrain configuration can automatically manage itself in several modes, including a “stealth mode,” where the Corvette can run on electric power only up to 45 MPH. For people who opt for a noisy exhaust system, this is particularly important, as it allows you to get out of your neighborhood before starting that V8 engine and making racket early in the morning or late at night.
A “Feature” GM Is Proud Of
But, GM’s press release lists something as a feature that most people here would consider a bug: “There is no need for plug-in charging for the E-Ray’s battery system. The battery is charged via regenerative energy from coasting and braking, as well as during normal driving.”
In other words, this system that would have been pretty cool fifteen to twenty years ago (especially stacked on top of active fuel management and other fuel-saving features for people who commute in a Corvette) is now getting the same marketing treatment as Toyota’s “self charging hybrids.” Not only was that a spurious claim, but it was deceptive enough to get Toyota/Lexus in trouble with Norwegian authorities.
GM Already Knows How To Do Better Than This
While I know many Tesla fans think GM is still completely in the dark ages, and that any assertion that “Mary led” is a complete joke, we do have to give GM some credit if we’re going to actually be honest. Tesla was obviously ahead of it pretty consistently, but GM has done things that most other traditional automakers haven’t done and it has even beat Tesla to a few things along the way (an affordable EV with reasonable range and liquid cooling is the best example, and one that’s ongoing).
While not a true EV, the Chevy Volt is a great example of what GM can do if it is motivated to provide people with some electric range. GM started selling those in 2010, but the last Volt off the line in 2019 had around 50 miles of electric range, 7.2 kW level 2 charging, liquid cooling, and a reasonably good transmission system that has proven to be very durable due to self-synchronizing clutches.
Bottom line here: GM knows how to build a plugin hybrid. It knows that people like plugin hybrids. It has the technology, the institutional know-how, and the patent portfolio to make it happen and do a good job of it.
But, GM dropped the ball and decided to make a hybrid instead of a plugin hybrid or an EV.
What GM Should Have Done
There are several key GM technologies that could have come together here to build the ultimate Corvette that could have delivered a smackdown to most EVs on the track while still offering a fossil-free commute for people not racing them (and that’s most owners).
Here are a few relevant things GM has done in the past:
First, a number of Cadillac and Chevrolet models have come with transverse V8s. For Cadillac models, it was Northstar DOHC V8 engines sitting atop 4T80e transaxles. For Chevrolet and Pontiac, GM equipped some front-drive cars with small block V8s and weaker 4T65e-HD transmissions. So, GM knows how to build a transaxle that can hold up to a small block V8.
Second, there’s the Volt. It had a four-cylinder mounted on a transaxle with two electric motors built inside the case. This was fed by a small battery pack to give it electric range.
Finally, GM obviously knows how to build mid-engined cars. The current generation of Corvette is a great example, but GM built the Pontiac Fiero from 1984-1988, and enthusiasts have swapped newer V8 engine setups into them to build a poor man’s version of today’s Corvette. A variety of other drivetrains have found their way into Fieros in people’s garages, too.
What GM could have done is put these things together to build a transmission (perhaps even transverse if that makes it easier to adapt existing designs) built to handle the power of the Corvette’s V8, but with integrated electric motor-generator units like the Volt. The battery pack could have gone in the middle of the car (like the Chevy Volt), and the front drive unit could have been just like the E-Ray hybrid.
The end result would have been a more expensive car, but one that had 20-30 miles of EV range and more low-end torque than the E-Ray. If GM put powerful enough motor-generators in the transmission, the company could have come up with a vehicle that was a decent performer in EV mode, but devastatingly fast in hybrid mode, perhaps even rivaling the best offerings from Tesla and Lucid for higher-spec offerings.
But, Chevrolet and GM seem to be stuck in the past when it comes to the Corvette. They thought they could pass off a non-plugin hybrid as a good thing in 2023, and it begs the question of whether GM’s efforts to build any mid-engine vehicle are subject to a powerful curse of some kind.
Featured image provided by GM.
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