With 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, GM Begins Its Reboot Of Chevy Small Cars

August 2, 2010
For the third time in less than three decades, GM is renaming its mainstream small-car line. And while the Cruze might be assembled in the same place as its predecessor, the Cobalt—in Lordstown, Ohio—the new Cruze couldn't be more different than the Cobalt.

Most notably, it's a world car. But unlike Ford, which is designing its Focus from the start for the U.S., Europe, Asia, and other major markets, where it will debut at about the same time, the Cruze first bowed in Korea in 2008. Since then, it's been introduced in more than 60 countries and, GM emphasized frequently during a press preview this past week, the Cruze has seen hundreds of small improvements, and the version we get benefits from nearly all of them.

As we reported in our First Drive of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, this new small sedan is conservative in style, but sophisticated and serious in a way GM hasn't been before, feeling like a mini-Malibu in many respects. And, as GM had no hesitation in bringing Corollas and Civics out to sample alongside the Cruze, the automaker is confident that it created one of the best-in-class cars this time. It did.

But how do you get the word out when small-car shoppers—particularly those on the coasts—don't even think to look at their Chevy dealership? To vast swaths of the country, it's been largely dismissed as the maker of big trucks and SUVs, a few unremarkable rental cars, and the not-yet-here 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

Off-the-radar could be a market advantage?

After decades of small-car offerings that haven't exactly hit the mark in the market, and young buyers for whom Chevrolet isn't even on the radar, that might actually be an advantage.

GM's small-cars marketing director, Margaret Brooks, actually agreed with that point. "It's like we're starting over," Brooks said.

And there's more behind that statement. In addition to the Cruze and Volt, GM has a small-car strategy in place, to bring both a sporty, more substantial replacement for the Aveo subcompact on the way, as well as a basie, economical Chevrolet Spark hatchback.

How do you target this new generation? These are shoppers who grew up with Toyota and Honda, one GM official commented, and given strong product, they're much less likely to have preconceptions, and more likely to walk into the Chevy dealership than their parents.

Already conquesting with Equinox and Traverse

It appears to be true. Last week, GM revealed that so far this year nearly two-thirds of Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse buyers are new to the Chevy brand, and 44 and 45 percent, respectively for those models, traded in non-GM vehicles.

To some degree—as hard as it might sound to Baby Boomers—Honda and Toyota are what the parents always drove; Chevy is new and exciting. Sometimes not knowing a brand is better than knowing it too well.

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