While Honda plans to end production of its Acura NSX (shown at right) in 2022, GM is developing hybrid-electric propulsion for the Corvette C8. (Lindsay Brooke)

Corvette hybrid development defies GM’s all-electric mantra

Hybridization aims to bring even more punch to the C8 platform.

General Motors’ leadership has advised the world that the company is going battery-electric, full stop. Investments topping $35 billion during the first half of this decade prep GM for 30 EVs by 2025, two-thirds of which are intended for sale in the U.S. By 2035, GM hopes its conversion to a battery-electric-only fleet will be complete – and a key to achieving carbon neutrality for all GM operations by 2040.

“If I had a dollar more to invest, would I spend it on a hybrid? Or would I spend it on the answer that we all know is going to happen, and get there faster and better than anybody else?” GM president Mark Reuss told The Wall St. Journal in 2019. GM’s last hybrid was the 2019 Chevrolet Volt, but apparently the Corvette development group missed Reuss’s full-electric memo. According to GM engineering sources, two gas-electric hybrid sports cars are under development for introduction by the time GM’s coming wave of pure EVs hits the streets.

In 2015, GM filed a patent for the name “E-Ray” and renewed that trademark just last year. Expectations are that this badge will adorn the first hybrid Corvette expected in the 2024 model year, one step after the 600+ hp 2023 Z06. Supplanting the Grand Sport in the lineup, E-Ray will combine today’s 495-hp (369 kW) 6.2-L LT2 V8 driving the rear wheels with a pair of 50 hp (37 kW) electric motors driving the front wheels, according to sources.

The 1.94-kWh battery pack energizing the AC motors will be housed in a rectangular-section center cavity available in C8’s aluminum space frame. The Corvette’s 12.6 ft3 (0.36 m3) front trunk (frunk) will be reduced in volume but not eliminated. E-Ray’s Michelin tires and wheels will both be larger than the base Corvette and wider fenders will be shared with the Z06.

Later in C8’s product cycle, the hottest Corvette in history will reach dealers with a spectacular 1000+ hp (~750 kW). Two years ago, GM filed for and received a patent for the trademark “Zora.” That nameplate is expected to adorn the ultimate C8 which will combine the twin-turbocharged LT7 5.5-L V8 with the electric motors. Combining four-digit horsepower with all-wheel drive will potentially hike the price over $150,000. This should give Ferrari engineers in Maranello something to ponder between espresso breaks.

The Zora name pays homage to Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Corvette’s chief engineer from 1967 until his 1975 retirement. Starting in the mid-1950s, Arkus-Duntov advanced the Corvette’s cause by developing fuel injection, independent rear suspension and other chassis improvements. The unanswered question is what lies beyond the Zora hybrid? To sustain the Corvette, GM’s hottest-selling car line, and to honor the company’s all-BEV commitment, the company surely has plans to promote it to full-electric status.

How exactly that might be achieved is still speculative. Fortunately, the coming Ultium battery system is sufficiently flexible that it doesn’t have to live in the typical underfloor ‘skateboard’ configuration which would lift the Corvette’s cockpit awkwardly high. With today’s V8 engine, 8-speed transaxle, exhaust system, and fuel tank dispatched to the retirement home, batteries could reside behind the cockpit as well as inside the center tunnel. Of course, a fresh C9 platform with a chassis optimized for electric propulsion could also be engineered and implemented before GM’s 2035 ‘zero emissions’ target date. Watch this site for evidence that such a program is underway.

Continue reading »