GM Makes Trax - and Groove, Beat - for NY

April 4, 2007
“Bigger is better,” or so went the traditional American mantra. Big houses, big meals and, of course, big cars, whether the finned Caddies of the 1960s, or today’s full-sized pickups and SUVs. But something seems to be changing. Maybe it’s a generational thing, or perhaps the result of global warming, but suddenly, “small is beautiful.”


Small cars are “the fastest-growing segment of the automotive market,” notes Dave Lyons, who heads Asian design operations for General Motors. On a global scale, minicars now account for about five percent of total sales, but by some estimates, Lyons notes, that could triple over the next decade.


Demand for pint-sized products, such as the British-made Mini, DaimlerChrysler’s 8-foot-long Smart and GM’s little Park, has been strongest in emerging markets, like China, where buyers can’t afford much more, but it is growing in more established markets, including Western Europe, where buyers face a dearth of parking, as well as skyrocketing fuel prices.


Even in the U.S. , there’s been a growing interest in the smallest products in the automotive spectrum, like the Mini, and the Smart will make its long-anticipated debut here in early 2008. So it’s no surprise that General Motors has chosen to unveil three promising minicar concepts at this year’s New York International Auto Show, prototypes primarily developed at the former Daewoo operations, in Inchon, South Korea , but with the assistance of GM designers and engineers from around the world.


“Typically, we don’t have this size vehicle in the U.S. ,” acknowledged Courtney Moody, a marketing executive with Chevrolet. “But with gas prices where they are, we thought it was important to explore” the opportunities.


For the moment, the Chevrolet Trax, Beat, and Groove are nothing but concepts. But during an hour-long background session with, Lyons and other GM insiders made it clear that at least one – and perhaps all three – of these show cars will find a way into the global Chevrolet product portfolio in the not-too-distant future – perhaps for the U.S.


“The three are all very different, but all very appropriate for Chevrolet,” said Lyons.


2001 Daewoo Leganza rear

2001 Daewoo Leganza rear

Enlarge Photo
All three are a size class below the smallest car Chevy currently sells in the U.S. , the Aveo. Similar in size to the Chinese-made Spark, the Trax, Beat, and Groove may look distinctly different, but they share a common “architecture,” GM’s new minicar platform. It’s an example of the flexible sort of product the automaker has been struggling to develop. For one thing, that means it can serve a variety of distinctive body styles. It can also meet all global government regulations, including the often-conflicting crash standards found in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.


That’s perhaps the most critical breakthrough of all. In years past, manufacturers like GM would have to engineer separate products for each region. That added up to billions extra in development costs and raised production costs, as well.


Trimming costs is critical, and not just for shareholders. While there are certainly some markets where buyers are willing to accept the most stripped-down econoboxes, small no longer equates with cheap. As the Mini has demonstrated in the U.S. , many buyers are willing to pay a premium for well-equipped small cars.

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