By Alexandria Sage
TUSTIN, Calif. (Reuters) - General Motors Co
In a glitzy presentation in Orange County outside Los Angeles, the eighth generation of the 66-year-old "Vette," in red, white, and blue, roared down a runway stopping short before an audience of Corvette enthusiasts, GM executives, dealers and media.
Revved up to take on high-performance European rivals, the new Corvette, dubbed the C8, provides a breath of fresh air to GM, which along with other carmakers faces slowing sales and new financial pressures related to global trade, electrification and unresolved emission standards.
With a 495 horsepower, V8 engine and dual clutch, the Corvette will go from zero to 60 mph in under 3 seconds, executives said, adding that the starting price in the United States will be less than $60,000.
The sports car gives the Detroit automaker a sorely needed shot in the arm after a difficult year, Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell said.
"A Corvette is not going to help pad margins the way a Silverado would," Caldwell said. "But from an image and excitement standpoint ... that halo effect the Corvette fills is unique."
The Chevy Silverado full-size pickup truck, a perennial best-seller, ranks among GM's most profitable vehicles.
Since 2013, GM has sold over 100,000 C7-model Corvettes in the United States, according to Edmunds. The car ceased production this summer.
Bidding adieu to the front-engine configuration that has marked the two-seater since its appearance in 1953, GM has opted for a mid-engine architecture for better handling and weight distribution, the choice of many European sports carmakers.
Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter said GM had reached the limits of what could be done with the front engine, but that the new mid-engine design allowed a "quantum leap forward in driving dynamics."
Far below the $113,000 starting price for the rear-engine Porsche 911, the Corvette's opening price of under $60,000 could attract a younger buyer lured in recent years to high performance vehicles from Tesla Inc
One such potential customer, who professed to be a Tesla fan as well, was Jonathan Opatowsky, 22. He drove three hours to the unveiling in his dad's 2017 Grand Sport - with his mom in the passenger seat.
Opatowsky, whose father was absent due to work, said his dad first let him drive his 2014 Stingray when he was only 17.
"He was shocked. He didn't think I'd be able to drive it like I did," he said.
The massive hangar where the gasoline-fueled Corvette took the stage is less than 40 miles (64 km) from Tesla's Southern California design center, where Chief Executive Elon Musk in 2017 unveiled a prototype of a new electric Roadster - dubbed "the quickest car in the world" by the automaker.
Whether the Corvette can generate enough excitement to attract even the loyal buyers of the pricier European brands - from Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, McClaren and Lotus - remains to be seen.
GM has teased the launch for months.
In April, Juechter and Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra drove a camouflaged C8 Corvette through New York's Times Square during rush hour in a high-profile tease.
Almost mythic in the American imagination, the car has been immortalized in television and film from "Route 66" and "Hot Rods to Hell" in the 1960s to "Corvette Summer" in 1978.
Even Elvis drove the Corvette Stingray Racer in the 1967 film "Clambake."
Ahead of the evening launch inside a vast hangar, Corvette owners mingled at a "Corvette Corral" alongside their parked sportscars, with a selection of vintage Corvettes from GM inside.
One enthusiast, John Elegant, 72, said he has been waiting since his teenage years for a mid-engine Corvette. Over four years ago, he put down a deposit with a dealer for the C8.
The co-founder of http://www.midenginecorvetteforum.com and current owner of a canary yellow C7, Elegant purchased his first Corvette in 1998 after putting his daughters through college.
"My wife turned to me and said, 'You waited 35 years, go get your Corvette.'"
Explaining the Corvette's lasting appeal, Elegant described it as "an American sports car."
"There are other brands that make really good muscle cars, like Mustang, but a Mustang is not a sports car. Sorry, Mustang lovers."
(Editing by Himani Sarkar)