Wednesday, January 11, 2012

#NAIAS: GM Goes After the Youthful Shopper

During a weekly automotive roundtable last week it was revealed that General Motors will debut several cars at the North American International Auto Show. The blogosphere turning from impenetrable firewall to a colander in the face of imminent embargo lifts meant three of them were already known as the Cadillac ATS, the Buick Encore, and the Chevrolet Sonic RS. But a mysterious fourth vehicle piqued interest. There was nothing production ready in the works, leaving the conclusion of a possible clean sheet concept design.

Those suspicions were confirmed on Monday by not one, but two concepts from GM. Cryptically named Code 130R (Pictured Left) and Tru 140S, the Chevrolet-branded design exercises are GM's latest efforts in appealing to a more youthful demographic. Like every other competitor on the market, GM is trying desperately to turn the tide and capitalize on younger buyers at a time when sales are languishing and the median age for a buyer continues to rise. According to GM's own market research, the 20 something buyer is looking for a vehicle that sports an economical powertrain managing 40 miles to the gallon, high creature comforts in connectivity and convenience, and priced in the low $20k mark.

Reception on the two concepts has been mixed. Most applauded GM’s commitment to building cars that focus on small, thrifty fun but questioned their likeness to other vehicles - The Code 130R was compared to a BMW 1-Series and the Tru 140S, Chevrolet’s answer to a coupe version of the Cruze, bears a striking resemblance to the Mitsubishi Eclipse.  The harshest critics derided the styling as 'derivative and underwhelming'. One journalist even unleashed a diatribe on the 'diluted' concept cars of today, claiming they are no more than dressed up versions of their production-ready counterparts.

Adding insult to injury, albeit unintentionally, GM brought along the Chevrolet Miray Concept that evoked the fantastical imaginings of a Star Trek like future. The comparisons were inevitable -  In the Miray's presence, the two newer concepts looked downright archaic.

Then there are the names. Allegedly a product of focus group research, the cars’ names were said to resonate with auto enthusiasts. Yet even the most pedantically inclined will find themselves confused from the arbitrary string of alphanumeric characters. Where 'Miray' finds meaning in being the Korean word for 'The Future', '130R' and '140S' sound more at home on a tax return than on any concept vehicle.

GM is playing it safe and claiming the concepts are simply that – Concepts. The ultimate goal is to start a dialogue amongst the prospective Gen-Y shopper and help shape them into something appealing that GM can bring to market at an affordable price. The competition however waits for no one – The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ coupes are set to go on sale shortly, and Hyundai is reaffirming its foothold in frugal fun in the  Veloster Turbo. GM must keep up if it wants to stay relevant as a viable contender for young would-be buyers, and it remains to be seen whether the answer lies in the 130R and the 140S. 

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