To hear the interview:

Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer Auto Editor
With the sixth-generation, 400-horsepower Corvette (known as the C6) widely praised and a 505-horsepower Z06 model now on sale, what will the next Corvette be like?
A hybrid?
All-wheel drive?
More power?

Figuring out the "C7" Corvette is the challenge for Tom Wallace, a Pittsburgh native who took over as only the fourth chief Corvette engineer since 1953. He replaces Dave Hill, who got the job in 1993 and retired in January.

Wallace, 57, joined GM in 1966. He has held a variety of jobs. Most recently he was in charge of the automaker's small and midsize trucks, which include the Chevrolet TrailBlazer assembled in Moraine, Ohio.

Trucks may not sound like the right credentials for a chief Corvette engineer, but when Dave Hill became chief Corvette engineer in 1993, he moved over from Cadillac, where his work included the luxury two-seater called the Allante.

Hill's C5 Corvette gave the two-seater a newfound international respectability on which the C6 improved.

Recently Wallace talked about what's ahead.
Most recently you have been in charge of GM's midsize trucks. That is quite a move to go from being in charge of midsize trucks to the fourth chief engineer in the history of the Corvette.

Yeah, it is. I have been racing in Sports Car Club of America for, oh, 30 years. I drag-raced. But mostly I got into road racing. The kind of vehicles I have driven were . . . full-frame vehicles, 700 horsepower, 2,400 pounds

So, I'm familiar with very high performance kind of race vehicles.
What are the most important qualities for a chief engineer for Corvette?

Frankly, I think you have to understand performance cars and you have to relate to what the customers want. Every customer isn't a race car driver, but they like to drive sometimes sporty and aggressively. You have to balance between a very high performance racing kind of car versus what the customers want and need and do it in an affordable package.

What are the three things that are the essence of a Corvette?
Styling, performance and . . . affordability.

Is there something in the Golden Book of Corvette Rules that says all Corvettes must be rear-wheel drive?

There is nothing in the rules that says you wouldn't do an all-wheel drive. However, when you go to all-wheel drive, you have issues with mass and you also have issues with center of gravity.

In a front-engine rear-drive vehicle, the way we have configured the Corvette, if you were to try to do all-wheel drive in the front, you would have to do something with the engine. You might have to raise it to get power to the front wheels, and that would ruin the center of gravity.

I am not suggesting you would never see an all-wheel-drive Corvette, but the guys have done a lot of study, and the balance of having the low center of gravity, the low mass and being affordable is . . . towards sticking with rear-wheel drive.

The C6 has gotten great reviews, but what are the things you would like to see improved? What are the things C6 owners have told you they want improved?

My own opinion is that the C6 is pretty doggoned good. We always continue to do evolutionary improvements. We are going to continue to improve the quality and the reliability. There are some folks who would suggest maybe we need to brighten up the interior a little bit, so we are going to talk to some customers and see if they would like more luxurious or brighter interior. But that is all I can think of so far.

What are the chances the next Corvette will be an updating of the current vehicle instead of an all-new vehicle?

It is too early to tell, but it is not going to be just a tweak, because if you stand still, you fall back. You have to continue to push the envelope, improve the technology. Fuel economy is still a big deal, so we are going to continue to work hard on fuel economy. We've still got lots of fuel economy and performance improvements we can make.

Under any circumstances can you imagine a Corvette being a performance hybrid?

I don't think we would rule it out by any means. If the customers are clamoring for it and the competitors are doing it, you bet we will take a look at it.

But to be honest . . . with me being new to the team, we are just starting to talk about what want we to do with the C7.
We have this huge list of things we want to consider for the C7, and we are just in the throes of talking about those. What are the pros and cons of right-hand drive . . . all-wheel drive . . . midengine . . . bigger displacement . . . swoopier styling . . . hybrids.

These are the kinds of questions you ask in the formative stages of the next generation. We are just starting to write the questions down.

You talked about the danger of standing still, not moving ahead quickly enough. If you look at the competition, how long can you afford to wait before introducing a C7?

We used to go eight, nine, 10 years, and that is too long. I keep thinking five or six years is about the most you want to stretch a major one in this segment. I think you start to get long in the tooth in the sixth year, and year seven and eight you'll be in trouble.

We're getting increasingly powerful cars. What do you see happening with the horsepower competition?

I think it is going to keep moving. Obviously fuel prices tend to make you step back from that once in a while, but the winners will increase horsepower and increase fuel economy. If you can do both of those, you can win. That is where we are going to continue to press. The Z06 is 505 horsepower and the only vehicle in the United States with 500 horsepower that doesn't pay a gas-guzzler tax.
Why shouldn't you be ashamed of cheating the federal government out of that extra money which it so desperately needs?
(Laughter) I hadn't thought of it that way. But next generation I am not going to take a back seat on horsepower just because gas might be $3.50 a gallon. We are going to solve both. It does not have to be an either-or.

Is there a common-sense limit to the most horsepower you would recommend offering in a Corvette, and what would that be?
I don't think there is a common sense [limit]. Right now horsepower sells. People line up at the door to pay for the horsepower, and they never use it, but they want to have it and brag about it.
How do you feel about a supercharged or turbocharged engine in a Corvette?

I think it is a fine idea. If we need it, there is no problem with saying we would do that. GM really knows how to supercharge and turbocharge engines. Clearly that is one of the alternatives we will continue to look at. You have to be careful about just continuing to increase displacement, because that does cost a lot of fuel economy.

If you look outside the GM family, which sports car do you admire the most?

I think Porsche, in some of their 911s. The most affordable for the performance levels. I feel we outperform them dollar for dollar, but Porsche has a pretty good lineup.