Back in September, I attended the launch of the Chevrolet Sonic for another outlet. Despite GM’s insistence that the Sonic was being marketed at “millenials”, I was the sole member of the press that fit that demographic. Despite the cheesy, ham-handed attempt at being in touch with the demographic (a parking garage festooned with contrived, faux-urban graffiti, for example), the Sonic left a favorable impression. It is an honest, practical, fun to drive car that is affordable for young people – well, some of them.
Although I have a full-time gig with salary and benefits, I am in the distinct minority among my peer group. Most of us should have had a relatively trouble-free path to maintaining the middle class (or upper-middle class) lifestyles we were born into. All of us have some form of post-secondary education or have a learnt a trade, but few of us have stable, full-time jobs. Most of my friends who graduated from good schools with 4-year degrees are stuck working contract jobs with no benefits and little promise of stability.I would need both hands to count the number of friends who have been let go this year. Many are stuck working unpaid internships in the hopes that it may lead to a contract gig. Renting overpriced apartments in gentrified neighborhoods seems to be the future. Tight credit, low wages and high real estate prices in urban centers makes home ownership seem as distant as winning the Powerball.
If rent and rising food prices weren’t enough, gas, insurance and parking are just added expenses on top of the rising cost of living. In short, buying any is just not on the radar for a lot of people in my demographic. Chevrolet seems hell bent on becoming the brand of choice for Gen Y, and their new concepts, given the silly monikers of Code 130R and Tru 140S (which look more like inebriated SMS typos than vehicle names) are their latest salvo.
Chevrolet said that they consulted with countless members of Gen Y to find out what they want in a car. Although various outlets have taken Chevy to task for not creating a diesel, 6-speed manual turbocharged rear drive compact that gets 50 mpg, looks like an Audi R8 and costs $10,000, these concepts are probably a step in the right direction. They are efficient and although they may not be particularly fast, they are unique looking in an attractive way, rather than in a bizarre, Hyundai Veloster manner. The concepts may look derivative or even silly to us, but to the average consumer in their 20′s, they don’t look like a subcompact hatch or (worse) a bell-shaped subcompact sedan, and this is a victory in itself.
Don’t let web pundits fool you either; most young people don’t give a rats ass about speed beyond if it feels quick when judging by the seat of their pants – gas is expensive, street racing carries much stiffer penalties than the post WWII boomer days, and if anyone really wants a performance car, they’ll probably buy something used. It’s not that the car has to drive poorly, just that 0-60 times and lateral g’s are way down the list for a lot of people who haven’t been actively following the development process of the Scion FR-S (read: 99% of the population).
Despite all of GM’s efforts, the big problems for the future remain structural. More and more young people don’t even have their driver’s licenses (speaking anecdotally this seems to be a female trend. My girlfriend and many of her friends don’t have their drivers licenses. The boyfriends do the driving), and the precarious economic situation of young people, combined with the allure of a used car from a prestigious brand makes the idea of a new car less and less appealing.
At this point, you’re probably looking to see what my conclusion is regarding Gen Y, the future of Chevrolet as a brand and where cars will be going. Honestly, I don’t have one. I’ve been alive for a shorter period of time than many of you have had driver’s licenses, and there are too many external factors that will determine the above. If gas prices go up, or we approach Spainish levels of youth unemployment – or both – then Chevrolet’s problems are going to be far greater than “how can we get young people to identify with our brand.” If I knew the answer to these, I’d probably be off somewhere else making a lot more money and doing a lot more societal good. As it is, I am but a mere automotive blogger, with a loyal and intelligent readership, a 15 year old Mazda and a rewarding job that offers a steady income. I am blessed, even if the prospect of owning my first new car seems very far off.