Is Chevrolet Serious About Its $20,000, Rear-Wheel-Drive Sports Car?

Chevrolet's stand at the Detroit auto show provided an intriguing if confusing look into the bow-tie brand's sport compact strategy, from the mild -- a slightly modified version of the Sonic due out later this year -- to the wild -- a Lamborghini Gallardo knock-off called the Tru 140S, which would ride on the same platform as the Cruze.

The most tantalizing possibility, though, is the Code 130R, a four-seat, rear-wheel-drive coupe that would cost around $20,000. Far fetched? Not necessarily.

"We know how we'd do it," said GM North America president Mark Reuss.

We think we know, too. The key is found about 100 feet away from the Chevy stand in the form of the 2013 Cadillac ATS. The 3-series fighter employs a new, lightweight rear-wheel-drive platform known as Alpha. Though Reuss and the engineers behind the Alpha platform stress they are "focused on just Cadillac," they add that it's also flexible and scalable.

"We've got an architecture where we've...done a lot of things right and so, yes, there are other opportunities that we're investigating," said Alpha lead engineer Dave Masch. He said there's no fundamental issue with using this architecture for smaller vehicles, though the Code 130R, with its ultra-short overhangs, is hardly a production-ready concept.

The ATS's more expensive elements, like aluminum front strut towers and magnesium engine mounts, can be exchanged for cheaper steel with relative ease, Reuss says. Even then, any car built on the platform would benefit from the extensive focus on weight savings that went into designing the architecture. For instance, the engineers set up the suspension geometry with a mind toward using the thinnest hardware possible, including smaller fasteners than GM has used in the past. The concept was described as featuring the 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder found in the Cruze and Sonic paired with GM's eAssist technology. A production version also might also offer a version of the ATS's 2.0-liter turbo. Any larger engines would overlap with the Camaro, which is also likely to move to this platform.

So, Chevrolet can build the Code 130R or something like it. But why would it? The answer is that GM has something of a youth problem. Like every company, it's desperate to attract the so-called "millennials," those 11-30 year olds who will become the bulk of the car buying market within the next fifteen or so years. But GM created another hurdle for itself by killing its two most youth-oriented brands, Pontiac and Saturn. The average Chevy buyer is 55. The Cruze has attracted some young buyers and the new Sonic will certainly attract more. But neither of those are the sort of affordable halo car -- think Kia Soul, Hyundai Veloster, or Mini Cooper -- that will grab a young buyer's attention and build brand loyalty.

A front-wheel-drive product like the Tru 140S might be an easier solution and would more directly compete with the likes of a Veloster. But that too may be a reason to do something different, something distinctly American.

"Anyone can build a 140S. The 130R can only be built by GM, Ford or Chrysler," says auto analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics. And though Chevrolet already has a distinctly American, rear-wheel-drive coupe in the Camaro, Hall argues it's "boxed into a corner" that will prevent it from ever becoming small enough or cheap enough to become a viable option among young buyers. "[Chevrolet] can use a second rear-wheel-drive coupe," he says.

The next step is for Chevrolet to tour the two concepts around the country in search of youth feedback, though Reuss says he will make sure his opinion counts as well -- "I will weigh in, you can bet on that." If the Code 130R gets the nod, it would probably appear sometime around 2015.

guystoys
Folks, LET'S HOPE CHEVY IS NOT SERIOUS ABOUT EITHER OF THESE CONCEPTS! The 130R is a disaster! It definitely looks American since it wreaks of retro-AMC, specifically Rambler American, styling. The resemblance to the 1958-1960 American, an updated version of the 1950 Nash Rambler introduced by George Romney (Mitt's dad), is uncanny! The 130R doesn't stray far from the slightly creased version of the same car introduced in 1961. In particular, the greenhouse and side profile recall the same slanting B and wide C pillars. Its overall proportions and wide-open mouth shout "Rambler American". Then, to call the Tru 140S a "Gallardo knock-off" is plain absurd! Take a look again. Doesn't the 140S have that "I've seen this before" appearance. Come on! It looks like a slightly squatter version of the defunct Mitsubishi Eclipse. Now, don't get me wrong; it's nice looking, but it's NOT original. Chevrolet can do better than this and maintain it's trademark look. Chevy, please listen and do something NEW!
jdbunda
With a 2.0T in the 130R, I see what the 1 series should have been.
shaguy
JagBro9No competition? Check out the Subaru BRZ and ther Toyota FRS-86.
Vardurn12
I keep thinking of a my Grandmother's red 1966 Chevy II with a 327. Yeah the 130 could be a nice decendant of the Chevy II
ShinySteelRobot
Hmm, I liked the Tru 140S better when it was called the 2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse.
sschewe
I think the rear wheel drive model will attract the youth. I bought a BMW 2002 from the factory in 1971. I have never had so much fun with a car. An affordable rear wheel drive performance car is perfect for the 20 somethings just starting out in life.
JagBro9
As is, Chevy don't have anything to compete with the Toyota/Hyundai sport coupe class, so why not do this car?
beasto
Why not build both? Not every small car buyer is exactly the same. I know that companies don't like to compete with themselves, but at least with the concepts shown they are targetting somewhat different audiences. And even when people cross shop the 2, Chevy will still be providing the sold product making the sale an enterprise win regardless of how you slice it. The small car market is already large, and growing with the shift in focus to efficiency, so having multiple entries could prove to be a good thing.

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