Don’t hold your breath for an eight-speed automatic in the the Corvette Stingray next year.
“As far as the Stingray coupe and convertible, we haven’t announced any changes. Everybody is speculating that we’re going to put the eight-speed in that. The question would be: ‘do you do it in 15 or 16,” Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter said.
Chances of the new eight-speed reaching Chevrolet’s lesser sports car in the 2015 model year aren’t good.
“We’ve got a lot on our plate to get done,” he said.
Specifically, his team has the Corvette Z06 to build. The car shown earlier this month in Motor City still has a year of development to go through before it’s ready for sale.
There are probably more than a few people willing to violate Geneva Protocol to know exactly what it is that Juechter’s team is up to behind closed doors. Hiss if you will at the idea of a torque converter automatic, but if he has misgivings about packaging the transmission, they’re impossible to spot.
“Our development guys say it’s like driving a sports bike. Zing, zing, zing,” he said while grinning and flicking a set of make-believe paddle shifters during an interview at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month.
The Corvette is already a low-volume product for Chevrolet and the Z06 will make up an even smaller sliver of the car’s overall sales. It was expensive to develop the new eight-speed and General Motors is eager to expedite the amortization of that cost by using it in more vehicles. Ideally, that would mean an eight-speed Stingray would already be waiting in the wings, held back by little more than model year formality. It’s much more complicated than that.
“You would think, ‘OK you’ve validated the high horsepower one, so validating the low horsepower one is like falling off a log, you just judge it.’ But that’s not true.”
There’s one little word to blame: validation. Swapping the Corvette’s transmission will be a complicated and vastly expensive process that the company won’t treat lightly.
“You’ve got to recalibrate everything. People think, ‘oh well its powertrain calibration’, but its more than that.
“It’s all the stability systems because you’re managing torque. So traction control, launch control, performance traction management, all that stuff has to be re-done when you just change the transmission.”
The level of computer involvement in modern sports cars makes incredible performance milestones possible, but it also means long hours for people like Juechter.
“Things that used to be mechanically simple are now electronically complex,” he said. The car will also need to pass GM’s battery of extreme temperature tests, all of which soaks up time and resources.
Meanwhile, key decisions about the Z06 including damper tuning, when to de-activate four of the blown 6.2-liter LT4’s eight cylinders and much more are still up in the air. There will be many more record-setting laps at the Milford proving grounds before Chevrolet shores up the production Z06.
There are also other products that would benefit more from the added gears than the Stingray can. The North American pickup truck market is the most hotly contested segments GM plays in and gas mileage is more important now than ever before.
Ford unveiled its 2015 F-150, emphasizing fuel economy gains by taking a big risk by building much of the body with aluminum. The choice will shed hundreds of pounds and bring about better fuel economy.
General Motors truck engineer Jeff Luke all but admitted on the Detroit show floor that the Silverado will share the eight-speed automatic very soon. Further underscoring the transmission’s impending truck future, Juechter said that re-packaging the eight-speed for a non-transaxle application is relatively easy.
The Stingray isn’t hurting for two more gears and it sure seems like the people responsible for making that change have other fish to fry… for now.
GALLERY: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
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