Help is on the way for the new Corvette – specifically its carryover 4-speed automatic transmission.

Better automatic on way for new ’Vette.

The car’s current automatic, which lacks “Tiptronic”-like manual-shift capability, is one of the few real disappointments in the otherwise impressive new Corvette. (See related story: C6 Corvette Powers Up)

But not for long. General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman and chief product guru Bob Lutz admits a sequential 6-speeder is on the way, though he declines to specify timing.

“We don’t talk about future product,” says Lutz, who mostly talks only about future product.

GM’s all-new 6-speed automatic will be a derivative of the Hydramatic 5L50-E sequential-shift 5-speed that is standard in the Cadillac XLR roadster. It will be built in four sizes accommodating up to 520 lb.-ft. (705 Nm) of torque and 450 hp. It brings a 7% performance improvement over the new car’s current 4L60/65 automatic, while hiking fuel economy 4%.

The new 6-speed automatic is expected in late 2005, for the ’06 model year. That is about when the Corvette joins the supercar ranks with the launch of a 500-hp, 7L Z06 version of the new model, which is scheduled to debut at the 2005 Detroit auto show. A new LS7 V-8 replaces the old 5.7L 405-hp LS6 as the highest-performance Corvette engine. Top speed jumps from the standard ’Vette’s 186 mph (299 km/h) to more than 200 mph (322 km/h).

“A German competitor (BMW AG) has just launched a complicated V-10,” Lutz says, “Our overhead-valve V-8 has the same power and performance, and only revs to 6,500 rpm.”

GM plans to start building the LS7 in its new Performance Build Center in Wixom, MI, beginning spring 2005. The $10 million facility has the capacity to make 15,000 high-performance engines per year.