And what, exactly, took GM by surprise?
“We were pretty blown away” by the response to the Chevrolet Trax, Beat and Groove, the minicars the automaker unveiled at last month’s New York Auto Show, gapes a GM spokesman. In an interview with the Detroit News, Michael Albano adds that “It has certainly opened our eyes to that segment here.”
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize what was happening even before GM unveiled the three cars, known affectionately among company insiders as “the triplets.” The buzz was intense and generated massive coverage everywhere from the network news shows, to non-automotive blog sites. At the show itself, the Chevrolet press event was easily the most heavily attended.
And since then, close to 900,000 people have registered their opinion on the Web site, Vote4Chevrolet.com, which was set up to see which of the concept vehicles best connected to potential customers.
When TheCarConnection.com last spoke to GM’s car czar, Bob Lutz, he was skeptical about the market for minicars in the U.S., but that was before gas prices again soared to record levels. If that happened – and if prices didn’t settle back – he conceded, things just might shift and American buyers, like those in most of the rest of the world, might start to understand why “small is beautiful.” That appears to be happening.
In GM’s clearly unscientific poll, the Groove – known as “Funkastalgia” among GM hipsters – is dominating, with 54 percent of the votes. Think of it as a sort of factory-ready hotrod, “where you buy a car that’s already got a customized look,” asserted Dave Lyons, who until last week headed the GM/Daewoo design studio, in Inchon, South Korea, where all three of the triplets were developed.
Next on the list is Beat, with 37 percent of the vote. Of the three, it’s the only “runner,” with a fully functioning powertrain and interior – which is not what you’d expect to find in a traditional econobox. The dash is hand-stitched, multi-color cloth, the seats using an Aeron-like mesh to permit more knee room for backseat passengers.
Surprisingly low on the vote totem poll is Trax, which was the triplet GM originally gave the most exposure to. While the hood, roof and doors are traditional steel, painted in a glossy, sunrise orange, most of the other body panels, including the lower front fascia and front fenders, are made of plastic, and they’ve got a more satin-like finish with molded-in color.
Lutz told TheCarConnection.com that he’ll be watching the Vote4Chevrolet results closely, though, in the end, he’ll still make up his own mind about whether or not to build one or more of the triplets. We hope that his well-publicized gut instinct recognizes the ongoing shift in the market and gives a go to GM’s minicar program.