Kids. Young’uns. Whippersnappers. Generation Y. Millennials. Call them what you may, but don’t call them irrelevant when it comes to purchasing power. General Motors estimates this group, which consists of about 80 million consumers in the U.S alone., has a collective purchasing power of about $1 trillion. That’s the sort of gold vein any automaker would love to tap into, but few do so effectively.
The idea of crafting a vehicle targeted at a younger generation is hardly new (anyone remember the Pontiac Aztec?), but Chevrolet’s two new concept cars – the Code 130R and TRU 140S – are a little different. These aren’t just attempts to interact with young buyers to create their ideal vehicles, but an attempt to interact with them to stoke their passion for both Chevrolet and the automobile in general.
No Silver Bullet
“We don’t think any brand quite gets that group right today,” says John McFarland, senior marketing manager for Chevrolet. “These consumers are passionate about brands, but we find there’s a hole in the industry when it comes to autos. 75 percent of this generation believes brands should ask their opinion. So we are, and we’re taking it to the next step when developing our concept cars.”
Over the past year, Chevrolet’s been engaging with young adults – both collegiate and high-school students – in an attempt to learn just what they want in a vehicle. Contrary to popular belief, small cars – especially hatchbacks – weren’t by and large their predominant favorite. In fact, says Clay Dean, director of Chevrolet advanced design, there’s nothing close to a silver bullet, noting this group is perhaps “one of the most fractured demographics we’ve seen to date.”
What to do? Designers took initial input on what young buyers want, and how they use a vehicle, and returned later on with a number of conceptual designs from a host of segments. Although designs included things like a small suv (code-named K/2) and a compact pickup (code-named LUV, of all things), Dean said the two cars debuting in Detroit – both coupes – “were two that bubbled right to the top of the list.
The first, which bears the ungainly name of Tru 140S, is what Dean describes as an “affordable exotic.” Theoretically, the car rides upon the same Delta II architecture used on the Chevrolet Cruze and Volt, but wraps it in slinky, low-slung bodywork, and coated with matte white paint. Frank Saucedo, director of GM’s Advanced Design studio in Los Angeles, notes the concept is devoid of a physical interior at this point, providing designers “the flexibility to continue discussion and encourage more dialogue as we continue developing these concepts.” The only hard points to the design are functionality (it still seats four) and connectivity (Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment suite is deemed a must-have feature).
Although the actual show vehicle is little more than a static display model, designers envision GM’s DOHC 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4 could serve as a powerplant. Although it’s the same engine used in the current Cruze and Sonic model ranges, it’s suggested output could be bumped up from 136 to 150 hp. Transmission choices could include both six-speed automatic and manual gearboxes, while a start-stop system would help increase fuel economy up towards that magic 40 mpg mark.
But it’s the second concept – the Code 130R – that is perhaps the most surprising. The compact, rear-wheel-drive platform is unlike anything currently in Chevrolet’s portfolio, and it’s simple, upright form is a stark contrast to the 140S’ rakish shape.
“We were concerned that the design would just be dismissed right away,” says Dean. “But there’s a pragmatic side to these kids. They looked at the images of this car and said ‘it kind of looks nostalgic, but it isn’t; it’s kind of like a muscle car, but kind of not.’”
Dean suggests the car is core to what Chevy as a brand is all about, but it’s also very similar to what Datsun and BMW were cranking out almost 40 years ago. Designers, hankering for the functional cars of days gone that proved exciting to drive, admittedly drew some inspiration from the likes of the 510 and E30 3-Series when finalizing the 130R’s form. In fact, at 173 inches long, it’s about two inches shorter than a late-model E30.
As is the case with the 140S, power theoretically is provided by a 150-hp form of GM’s 1.4-liter turbo-four, but the 130R bundles it with the company’s eAssist mild hybrid system. Power could be sent to the rear wheels by means of either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
Asking when either of these cars could go into production is to miss the forest for the trees. The point of this exercise may ultimately lead to a series of production cars, but it’s first and foremost a means for Chevrolet to connect with young buyers and implore them to lend a hand in influencing the next generation of Chevrolet. To that end, Chevy plans on showing the cars at a dozen events around the world and engage with millenials in order to further develop and refine the designs.
“This is our goal,” says Dean. “We want to talk to young buyers, and spend time with them. We don’t want to have them tell us what to do, but have them participate in the answer. What I hope is this will lead us to better solutions for developing not only cars for millennials, but a way to develop passionate product again for Chevrolet.” A noble intention indeed, but the true test will be if GM can use this process to craft charismatic Chevrolets. Do that, and it’s even easier to build an equally charismatic customer base that spans multiple generations.