The Corvette Market

Dec 16, 2010

Think about the Corvette for a moment. It has a unique and lofty place in the performance world. It’s a collector car, custom and still, in many cases, a regular driver.

Not too many cars can claim such a vast and varied market. There’s the investment aspect. And the thousands of race cars-actually used and static-that are Corvette and Corvette based.

We decided to think more about Corvettes for a moment, and investigate the current market. We wanted to know more about those who spend their money on the American original that’s been around almost 60 years and shows no signs of slowing down.

The Sting’s Still There

So, how is the current state of the Corvette market as it relates to the performance aftermarket?

Bryan Carrell of Volunteer Vette tells us, “The Corvette market is an ever-changing market. Just like the stock market, it goes up and down. Money is not always the key, because we have seen customers take money out of the stock market to buy Corvettes when the stock market is at a low. Currently, I see the Corvette market as being in a state of rest from all of the past growth.”

Gary Crump of Caledonia Classic Cars says, “The market took a bad hit in August and September of 2008. By March of ’09, we started to pick up again, but the ‘market,’ and I’m referring to the Corvette parts market, has been flat since. What I mean by ‘flat’ is we are all working steadily, but like it was, the sales are the same every month-no real increases since.”

Craig Ruth speaks from the Corvette trenches. His Ruth Restorations builds resto and performance Corvettes.

“Better than ever,” he says of his take on the market. “Everybody’s still buying. Customers have waited a long time, they have disposable income, they’re still driving them and that means they’re buying parts and getting services. The people that have Corvettes and disposable income are spending money. They’ve been waiting for the big jobs to save their cars for their kids and grandkids.”

Finally, Blake Yager of Mid America Motorworks adds, “From a sales standpoint, I see the Corvette market slowly coming back. Corvette is more of a ‘want’ type of car rather than a daily driver for most people. I believe that as the economy begins to recover, you will see Corvette sales get back to where they were pre-2008.”

Where’s the Sales?

Our next question deals with the challenges shops face selling to Corvette owners.

Crump of Caledonia says, “The basic problem is this: people need to start selling and buying Corvettes again. I know that the auctions are showing sales, but think about it. Every car I ever bought, I wanted to change or fix for me. If more cars are sold, more people will buy parts, and more shops will be busy.”

Ruth from Ruth Restorations says, “Getting (customers) in the door is the biggest challenge. They have to know you’re there. If they go to a hot rod shop and get some repairs done, it’s not a Corvette shop. Once they know you are a full Corvette shop, they’ll spend more. And be more inclined to come to you in the future for bigger work.”

Yager of Mid America reminds retailers to consider their competition on the Web.

“I see the biggest challenge shops/retailers face in the Corvette market as the Internet start-up guy,” he explains. “Websites are so easy to create these days that anyone who knows a decent amount about Corvettes and websites can start up their own company in a very short period of time and be able to semi-compete with the big players in the market.”

Carrell of Volunteer recommends “being competitive in price, customer service and knowledge of product.”

Flaunting your specific Corvette knowledge can go a long way toward building long-term relationships with enthusiastic ‘Vette owners.

“Once they know you are out there, the best way to serve the market is to prove yourself in the market and the community,” Ruth says. “Give the Corvette owner service and support and prove you know the car; that will set you up as an expert.”

Yager explains that with knowledge comes the ability to set reasonable prices.

“Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think everyone in the industry price-shops. (Plus), price-shopping is going to happen no matter what business you’re in,” he says. “If you can back-up your products with great customer service and support, you will retain more customers in the long run than if you have a cheaper price but don’t take care of the customer after the sale.”

Carrell says, “I think all of the above are important, but support is the key. Happy customers grow new customers. Word of mouth is the best advertisement in the business.”

Crump recommends shops that aren’t seeing improving Corvette business to be patient.

“I guess we need to wait it out. The economy is getting better, but not very fast. The other thing is the price of Corvettes (and muscle cars) skyrocketed to prices I thought I would never see. When you have cars selling for as much as they were before 2008, you knock out a whole lot of potential buyers who simply can’t afford a car that costs that much.”

Chances are those prices should begin to even out again soon.

Hot Products

So what are the hot products and vehicle years this season?

“There’s no question that in the Corvette realm, the hot car is the Grand Sport,” Yager says. “It is outpacing every single other model Corvette being made right now. These cars are selling at nearly a 3-to-1 pace of the base-model Corvettes. As for hot products, we continue to see car covers sell very well in the marketplace, as well as kits to make your car look more like a ZR1, Z06 and Grand Sport. Another very popular product group for us this year has been all of the stainless accessories for the car. We just returned from the SEMA Show and it was amazing the number of inquiries and pictures taken of our 2011 Grand Sport stainless steel engine bay.”

Carrell says that when it comes to hot products, it’s hard to narrow them down.

“There are so many items out there (including) new products out for the enthusiast, but I do think the Corvette to watch is the C4 market,” he says. “That era car has just about bottomed out in price, just as the ’70s cars did 10-15 years ago. It has huge potential with the incoming Corvette guys. There is a huge amount of growth possibility in this market for people who actually manufacture restoration parts.”

Crump adds, “Our hottest-selling products are, of course, our frame repair products, the C3 rubber bumper, metal floor pans and our C2 and C3 birdcage (body frame) metal products.”

In the resto works, Ruth says, “1963 through ’69 is what we’ve been cranking on. You’re always going to see work in those years. Breaker-less ignition and rear trailing arms are what we are doing the most. Also, Tremec 5- and 6-speed (transmission) conversions are huge.”

Lastly, we asked how the market looks for Corvettes in the future.

Crump begins with a plea to the next generation of ‘Vette enthusiasts.

“My opinion is the future of the market does not look good. We need to get young people interested in these cars, or we will have zero buyers in the future. Look around when you go to a show. Sure, there are kids with their fathers’ Corvettes, but the majority of people are over 50 years old. And they are buying now, but in 20 years?”

Ruth is more optimistic.

“It just keeps looking brighter. It’s not going to die. I don’t see us closing up,” he says. “The reproduction parts are getting better. You can almost build a car from a catalog. There’s more custom stuff out there, too. I think you’ll see more people putting 5- and 6-speeds in their car. I use Hurst driveline conversions to put in Tremecs.”

Yager says, “I believe the market for Corvettes is very bright. With the economy slowly turning around, people are becoming excited about all cars no matter the make or model. As for the Corvette, there were two new models unveiled at SEMA this year, and the C7 is just around the corner and looks to be yet another milestone in the Corvette’s heritage.”

Carrell points out the mystique of the Corvette is among its greatest strengths.

“Obviously, the baby boomers are driving the classic car market now and have been for the past 20 years, but there still is that element of emotional connection with a Corvette lifestyle for the next generation. I think it is safe to say that the Corvette will always be a popular car.

“Heck, it’s not just a car, it’s an American car-the only American sports car. I think the future market looks great for the Corvette.”

With so many uses and styles, the Corvette is still one to watch. And apparently so is its market.