By on November 7, 2012

It’s been a little while since we checked in on GM’s A-Car experiment, the Chevrolet Spark. After some cringe-worthy initial attempts at marketing the Spark, we are now getting some early data, and the takeaway is this; sales aren’t so bad, but the demographics of Spark owners aren’t quite what GM wanted.

In the four months it’s been on the market, the Spark has sold 8447 units, already ahead of the Smart Fortwo and Scion iQ, and right behind another Gen Y darling, the Scion FR-S in the sales charts, which only has a 125 unit lead over the Spark. The Spark’s 2100-unit a month average sales pace would put it somewhere around the Toyota Yaris if we were to extrapolate the data over a 12 month period. Not bad for tiny A-segment car that isn’t even available nationwide yet.

But here’s the kicker. The average age of the Spark buyer is 48. Ward’s Auto spoke to Chevrolet’s Cristi Landy, who was unable to work the spin despite strong attempts

A good percentage of Spark buyers are 25 or younger, but dealers report seeing a wide age mix among customers.

“The average (Spark buyer) age is 48,” she says. “In general we’re seeing younger buyers, but to sell in volume you have to have older buyers, too.”

The Spark is unlikely to lose sales to the larger Chevrolet Sonic when customers visit showrooms, because the smaller model has dramatically different styling and appeals to a different buyer, Landy says.

We at TTAC predicted this exact scenario back in July, and the Spark’s average age suggests that the Spark customer is skewing older than GM may have hoped for. It could be the de facto admission that for young people, buying a small hatchback is a conspicuous statement of poverty, or that young people just plain can’t afford cars because they don’t have jobs – and if they do, they aren’t great ones. The answer is somewhere in the middle.

We have the misfortune of being the most aspirational generation, with horrible economic prospects. Spark customers appear to be older, frugal and divorced from the notion that one’s wheels are integral to one’s identity. Maybe we could learn something from them. And maybe they could hire some of us. There are lots of bright, young creative types who could add a lot of value to General Motors, at a fraction of the cost of their current marketing “gurus“.

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106 Comments on “Generation Why: How’s The Chevrolet Spark Doing?...”


  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    A couple of questions:

    What is the average age of ALL car buyers in the U.S.? In other words, how does 48 compare to this average, is it lower, higher, right in the middle?

    Does “buyer age” directly correlate to driver age? In other words, if a 50 year old dad buys a Spark for his teenager to drive, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing for Chevy at all but it wouldn’t be reflected in this average number, I’d think.

    I get that every manufacturer is chasing younger buyers, but honestly, what percentage of people under 25 even buy new cars or are financially able to finance one?

    I loved that my 72 year-old aunt bought a bright yellow Scion xB (first gen) when it first came out. To her it was a fun and practical little car that could carry her bicycle without pulling the wheels off. It replaced an old Honda Civic Wagon that she bought for the same reason years earlier. Oh, and she bought a manual transmission (very cool aunt!). A well-packaged affordable car SHOULD find a broad audience.

    • 0 avatar
      Wabbit3

      Excellent questions and points. As you state, I remember Scion having this exact same “problem”. Buyers of all ages need an inexpensive practical vehicle they can rely on. Maybe the industry shifts from trying to “capture” a market that may not actually buy much, and focus on filling a niche that they keep tripping over in the dark.

      I remember trying to buy/lease my first Ranger when I was about 22. Took information from the dealership’s web site showing down payment and lease amount. They laughed me out of the showroom (this was about 95, and the internet was just a series of tubes to these jokers). I promptly bought a used Nissan instead, and therefore showed up on nobody’s marketing surveys.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        @Wabbit3 I’ve pontificated on the Scion marketing phenomenon several times before on TTAC. Original marketing standard for the brand was a 26 year old white male, college educated but unemployed and living with his parents. At the time it seemed laughable, but when sales of the Xb skyrocketed to 35-50 year olds who loved and lauded the ‘space’ of it, the marketing made perfect sense. The car is MADE for a certain age/sex demographic; however, the secret in the sauce is to MARKET it to the age that demo wished they could be. Now Dad could perpetrate the funk with a Scion, but still remain practical.

        The Spark seems to hit along the same marketing vibe, imaging itself as a young, urban hip machine when its really a frugal, grocery getter and four o’clock buffet hauler.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @dolorean

        Aspirational marketing – you nailed it. Don’t know if that was truly Toyota/Scions intent – but it sure is what they got.

        In certain cases you don’t market to your demographic on the target, you market to what your demographic thinks they are, or aspires to what they want to be. Beer commercials, McDonalds, Nike, are three great examples of companies that do this.

        You never see an overweight, underpaid, single mother of three going through the center console of her 1993 Toyota Camry to scrounge quarters for Happy Meals for the brood because she’s too damn tired to cook in a McDonalds ad.

        You never see some balding, blue collar, middle-aged single loser at a bar hitting on every woman he sees in a Budweiser ad.

        You never see a middle-aged lard ass on a tread mill in a Nike ad.

        But what is the reality of their customer base…

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      @stevelovescars – In other words, if a 50 year old dad buys a Spark for his teenager to drive, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing for Chevy at all but it wouldn’t be reflected in this average number, I’d think.

      I think that’s a great point. Oh and your aunt sounds awesome

  • avatar
    kilgoretrout

    Spot on analysis. Millenials aren’t buying cars or houses like their forebears, & it will have a profound impact on the N American economy.going forward.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/the-cheapest-generation/309060/

  • avatar
    tikki50

    what I dont understand is what did they expect? I mean its not a fuel economy car its a city car, that means all age groups, not 25 and under. Of course older people want to drive in the city as well, so naturally they are buying what works in the city, duh. When you talk about city cars and age, size doesnt matter, again its a city car!

    • 0 avatar
      Wabbit3

      Also true. I live in the dirt-cheap midwest, and when I travel to a city for business, say Philly or Boston or wherever, I can feel money being vacuumed right out of my wallet just trying to eat and get around. I cannot imagine how someone just starting out in a major metro would be able to afford a car payment on top of city rent, food, and utilities.

      Hehe…City Wok…

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        Speaking for boston it has reasonably priced public transportation, and extensive zip car network, it’s small enough to walk most places and it has an extensive Hubway network. The Red Sox suck but transport doesn’t.

  • avatar
    alan996

    Same action for the Honda Element the first 18 months it was in production. GM should not be confused..

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Only Spark I’ve seen is on the trade-in lot at the local Toyota dealer.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      Haven’t seen one in the wild yet. When I finally do, I will try to make note of A) the colour and B) the apparent age of the driver. FWIW, all the Smart For Two cars I see in the GTA are driven by people in their 50s and 60s. Same thing for Fiestas and Sonics mostly. But there are a few younger (ish) people driving those.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Seen four in the wild – none of them rentals. Shocked to see so many. Puget Sound however gravitates to boxes on wheels. You would not believe how many Kia Souls you see running around here.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      A month or two ago I saw several Sparks, all over this part of Western Michigan. Since a couple of them were on the freeway, I really couldn’t get a look at who or what age was driving them. Several others that I’ve seen in traffic have had young females piloting them. But, I don’t think I’ve seen one on the road now in several weeks. FWIW, I probably don’t drive as much as some folks on this board.

      I’m not surprised that the Spark is purchased by all age groups; it’s a small, inexpensive (well relatively) car, and that fits a pretty broad demo. I don’t recall, but I don’t think GM planted a stake in the ground (in terms of announcing demographics, etc.) like Toyota did with the original Scion breadboxes.

      GM can aim the marketing at younger folks, but the car has appeal beyond that age group. Actually, if we ever SAW more marketing (beyond the social media stuff) there might be even more sales.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    I wasn’t financially able to buy my first new car until I turned 26. Even then I had to ditch the thing when I got laid off. All my cars prior to that were clunkers which were one mechanical failure shy of the junkyard. I found it cheaper to buy and run a rustbucket for 6 months to a year until it failed and then buy another one, rather than get strapped with the financial burden of regular car payments.

  • avatar
    rmwill

    Just like the XB, Element, and various Hyundai/Kia low end models, its a skinflint senior citizen chariot. Millenials buy used cars, if they buy a car at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      Agreed. One of the millenials at my gym drives an old 5th Gen Civic while another drives a Saturn L200 somethingorother.

      On the other hand, the rich ones are gifted with really nice luxomobiles from mom and dad. One of the millenials at my gym drives a really sharp looking Volvo S40.

      • 0 avatar
        rmwill

        I find it surprising that none of the automakers have learned to accurately segment their customer base. My theory is that 50 something marketing managers living in the Detroit, Nashville, and LA suburbs have no clue about what millennial buyers really value, and use their “guts” to drive product planning decisions. Logic: The Spark is cheap, funky looking, and a hatchback. The young folks will buy them by the dozen! Similar to the flawed logic that EV’s would appeal to urban millennial buyers, despite the lack of dedicated parking spots. Doh!

      • 0 avatar
        Freddy M

        We aimed for the target and missed by a mile, but no matter, a sale is a sale.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “On the other hand, the rich ones are gifted with really nice luxomobiles from mom and dad.”

        Just wondering how you know these cars we’re gifted. Are you asking or making assumptions?

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    It’s a marketing 101 basic to (try and) understand *who* your customer will be. In some cases, finely-targeted marketing efforts make sense, and certain luxury items are a good example. But an average car purchase decision is a more complicated scenario than picking up say…a new riding lawn mower or a new Barbie playhouse. The emotional and rational elements of car buying are very individualized, and all over the map! Personally, I’d have thought the primary Spark customer would be under-30 females who think “cute” is cute.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      While it may seem that car purchases are all over the place sometimes they can really nail it. For example I bought my Eclipse GS-T back in ’96 and it turned out that I fit their “profile” perfectly. You see at one point our sales guy gave us the infamous: I’ll-talk-to-my-manager story. So while he was away getting coffee (or whatever) I took the opportunity to glance over his paperwork. It listed all the key metrics of what the ideal buyer would be for each model, this way the sales team could direct you into the “right” car. The form listed: age, sex, salary, education level, marital status, heck even years married and what brands of clothes the buyer might be wearing. It was scary… like tin-foil hat scary, just how accurate the list was in describing ME. I’m sure people outside (even way outside) the parameters bought Eclipses, but the data said I was the ideal customer. And sure enough I bought one.

      • 0 avatar
        racebeer

        Funny you mention the marketing materials you saw. When I purchased the ’01 Trans Am used a while back, the previous owner also furnished the “Dealer Information” book he had obtained for the complete ’01 Pontiac lineup. Under the Target Marketing section for the T/A, it said average age 37, primarily male, 45% married, 40% college degree, 50% professional, and household income of $85,000. Very interesting info, but may age at time of purchase was 59. I fit the other demographics, and adjusting for inflation from 2001 the income was also a close match if a bit low in my instance.

        All interesting stuff to read … and sometimes fairly accurate.

      • 0 avatar
        Truckducken

        JMII,
        Were you around for the TTAC article a year or two back that concluded the Eclipse was a car for people employed as strippers? If you happen to fit that demographic, please update your profile picture stat!

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    I used to live in Brooklyn, and bought my first car when I was 27. It was a 10 year old used Saab 9-3 that I spent 3k on.

    It looked like an adult car, had some sporting pretense, and had a nice European design that I could appreciate (Never mind the fact that it didn’t necessarily drive that great and broke all the time). Looking around my neighborhood, it was mostly used Audis, Bmw, Volvo, Saabs, etc etc. Not always the smartest choices, but those were the choices.

    That’s probably closer to what most people my age are looking for at that stage, not some cheeseball lame-ass marketing infested joy toy. Even if I had the money to spend 13k on a car, chances are it was going to be going towards something that originally cost 35k. Buying new was not even a consideration.

    It’s the same reason Seventeen magazine is actually read by 11-12 year olds. People always want to look forward.

    I just passed 30 this year, so I’m probably out of the target demographic now, but anytime I see anything marketed with some urban but non-threateningly clean guy wearing some hip hop gear (with his hat cocked to the side to denote extra coolness), dropping some dope rhymes and raising the roof……I know the people in charge have no effin clue what their audience is looking for.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “Even if I had the money to spend 13k on a car, chances are it was going to be going towards something that originally cost 35k. Buying new was not even a consideration.”

      Excellent point, GM marketing people take heed.

      • 0 avatar
        JLGOLDEN

        After years of Corsicas and Grand Ams, my first new car, coming out of college, was a spankin-new shiny 1998 Ford Escort. Not even near sexy cool, but still a formal, traditional sedan profile…and not a quirky-thrifty-cutesy-hatchback either. If the Spark were the only new car I could afford, I’d buy a used *something* instead.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      I understand this exactly. A Spark might appeal to someone that’s still in high school or college, with it’s funky looks and loud colors, but the young(er) people that can actually afford new cars – 20 something college graduates with decent jobs – are not going to really be looking at something like this.

      You can’t pull into the parking lot of a client’s office building or pick up your boss from the airport in a neon rollerskate without feeling a little self conscious.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “You can’t pull into the parking lot of a client’s office building or pick up your boss from the airport in a neon rollerskate without feeling a little self conscious.”

        I disagree but I buy what I like whether it “fits in’ or not. This is purely anecdotal but I could care less what someone drives, especially when it comes to business. Save me costs, make me money, help me operate more efficiently, be pleasant to deal with and we’re good.

        On a related note I’ve been in military and commercial aviation for a good part of my adult life. Noone was judged by the car they drove.

        I realize it might be different in other sectors but to me being good at your job will always hold more sway than what you drive. And if you happen to pull up in a Gotta Have It Green Boss 302 well the love of cars is just one more thing we have in common.

      • 0 avatar
        JLGOLDEN

        In many circles, including mine – both socially and professionally -one’s car choice “says” something…whereby even a three year old Camry is a better tool than a new Yaris. In my case, it’s simply the social climate of contacts where ages range from 24 to 74. No pressure to buy more than you need, but few people I know are finacially crunched…some are downright car snobs, some are practical and frugal within their financial means, and others are simply car-interest-neutral. Yet all of them would find the Spark’s stance and proportions ungainly.

      • 0 avatar
        ranwhenparked

        @ hubcap

        First impressions still count for a lot in many circles, especially at conservative companies. Being the only one with a lime green Spark in a sea of silver and black sedans is not a good thing. This is the sort of car that the valet hides around back with the staff’s vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      wagonsonly

      I’ve had used Saabs and Subarus as my primary transport since graduating from college for exactly this reason – nice cars, available inexpensively, and at least in the case of the Subarus, dead-solid reliable. I’ve had good luck with the Saabs as well, knock on wood. Since I drive 40-50K a year for work, it doesn’t make sense for me to buy new; even if a Spark was considered “presentable” for my field, I’d still be eating ten grand in depreciation in four or five years. In my situation buy a $3k car, put 50-100K on it, and get rid of it for $2.5k a year or two later…

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Maybe its just the photograph, but I think when your headlight runs from the end of the front clip to the A pillar, you’re design has somehow gone very awry.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      I think someone made the joke that it’s the Corporate Chevy look with an extreme facelift. So I guess they know their target demographic after all.

      And if no one made that joke before then I’m claiming it now.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Bangle-butt meet Rivers-face.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Thank you. I’m laughing at all the discussions of aspirational marketing here because I’m trying to figure out who would aspire to own one of these. Maybe someone who is a major shareholder in the company that made the ugly stick this was hit with. The Spark is an appliance for people who don’t really like cars, but need to have one.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Not surprising. All of the Scions I see are driven by the 50+ year old crowd wanting something frugal. Same scenario.

    I know when i was shopping for my first car, I wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near something like a Spark. I’m sure todays young buyers are just as, if not more vain.

  • avatar
    noxioux

    Screw Generation Whine. This car is crying out for an electric purple paint job and a pornographic My Little Pony decal on the hood.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    48 year olds have kids leaving the house and going off to college. I’m 51 and my daughter is going to college next year. If she was going to a commuter college, I’d consider getting her a new Chevy Spark rather than a used car. Note that I would have to buy it because my daughter doesn’t have any credit. So the hypothetical 48 year old average buyer may be the parent of the actual primary driver.

  • avatar
    Preludacris

    Hi there Chevy…
    I’m a 23 year old college graduate with a decent job and no chance of buying a new car anytime soon. Thanks to my education, I already owe as much as this car is worth, so you really think I’m gonna buy one?! And if I did have the money, why would I want this teeny-bopper-styled… thing? It’s like selling a Cozy Coupe to a 12-year old. Do I look that stupid?

    Here’s what my close friends drive:
    -Several 3rd and 4th gen Civics, a couple of 5th gens, and the odd Accord.
    -A couple of Tercels and Corollas.
    -There’s a Neon and a PT Cruiser in the mix, both female owned.
    -Older Toyota, Ford and Mazda pickups.
    -A diesel Mk5 Jetta, a Dodge Colt, older Mazda Protege, etc.

    None of these vehicles cost over $5k, and most closer to 2 or 3.

    • 0 avatar
      SuperACG

      A Mk.5 Jetta TDI for less than $5 grand? You’re full of it. I’ve seen Mk.4 TDIs with 200,000 miles go for $8 grand. I got $12 grand for my 2000 Mk.4 Jetta TDI when it was totaled in 2008 with 128,000 miles.

      • 0 avatar
        Preludacris

        Pardon me, I meant Mk4. Some confusion on the part of this Honda guy. Mk4 TDIs are going for around 5k here.
        http://vancouver.en.craigslist.ca/bnc/cto/3382409196.html
        http://vancouver.en.craigslist.ca/van/cto/3374939453.html
        http://victoria.en.craigslist.ca/cto/3317511595.html

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-X

      Wow. You have a lot of “close friends”!!

      • 0 avatar
        Preludacris

        Uh, thanks?

        Some people refer to acquaintances as friends. By adding “close” I meant to imply these are people I would call up and hang out with on any given weekend.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      I fail to see how a Toyota Tercel is going to look better on you than a Spark.

      At your age group, it’s understandable that you just drive whatever clapped out used car you can find. But at some point, you will get tired of driving cars that could fail at any time, or cars that you are afraid to take on long trips. That’s when you will start buying new cars.

      In other words- I give you 2 more radiator blowups before you grow up and join the rest of us car-buying public.

      • 0 avatar
        Preludacris

        A Tercel is going to look better on me than a Spark because rather than being aggressively ugly, it’s just kind of dull. This applies to anyone, not just me.

        Jokes aside, I’d have a hard time looking myself in the eye if I borrowed money to put myself in any new car. In other words- I give me 2 more radiator blow-ups, a clutch, piles of hoses, and a giant stack of ball joints before I grow up and buy something ten years old instead of twenty.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Interesting article and interesting thread. Maybe the takeaway is this: find a piece of the marked (described by function, not buyer) that is underserved and go for it; understand that the “market” includes used cars.

    I appreciate that, for a very long time, a car has been a fashion statement, so it made sense to build something that was “hip” for the new buyers coming into the market. But I think the “fashion statement” part of the market may be shrinking to include only the fairly wealthy.

    Understand that for people living in the major urban areas, the cost of owning a car — any car — is high and getting higher. So, perhaps people are becoming more attuned to functionality. That’s why they buy bland-looking Toyotas and Hondas.

    And I don’t know where this “brand loyalty” or “trading up” thing comes from today — unlike in the 1950s when the General wanted to move you up from Chevrolet to Buick, or even Cadillac as your income went up. In my 40 years of owning cars, only twice have I bought the same brand in succession. I replaced a Mustang GT with an SHO, and I replaced one Toyota Previa with another one.

    Finally, I think there’s a limit to the utility of tiny “city cars.” Driving in a lot of American cities — where you might really want a tiny car — is such a PITA that a smart person avoids doing it altogether and rides transit most of the time. The car is for getting away for the weekend and going to the grocery store. And, if you live in a spread-out “freeway city” like Los Angeles or Houston or DFW, you don’t want to be driving in some dinky-ass car like this or a Smart car on the freeway. You want something a little more substantial.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      I’d say anything north of about $30K is a fashion statement to some degree. With a few specialized exceptions, anything that anybody really needs a vehicle to do can be had new for below that target.

      Lots of buyers define their wants as needs. Nobody “needs” 200+hp in a sedan. And a 9-second 0-60 time is not “slow”.

    • 0 avatar
      wagonsonly

      There’s still a chance that the “fashion statement” segment of the market could work – it’s just underserved. The New Beetle was a smash-hit when it first came out, and so were the first and second generation Eclipse. I also see a lot of Camry Solaras around Connecticut – both generations. Something with a little more panache than a 4-door sedan, but not, as other commenters have noted, garishly ugly, could gain traction in the marketplace. As could something a little bit different – think first generation xB, Subaru Baja, or the like. “Different” does not have to be “ugly”, nor does it have to scream that the buyer is broke, tasteless, or financially imprudent.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Well, 48 is the average, but what’s the mode? If they have a huge cluster under the age of 30, but a smaller but still significant group of 60+ year olds, the average can get screwed up. The most common ages of all buyers would seem to tell a bit more.

    Honestly though, it’s not hard to see this car’s appeal among older folks – relatively frugal, easy to park, and the high roof and low floor makes getting in/out easy.

    Anecdotally, I just bought my first ever new car at 27, and it was a ’13 Mustang. I cross shopped with the Genesis Coupe, BRZ, and FRS, and looked at nothing else beyond those four. The Spark and it’s competitors didn’t even factor into the equation. I’m not sure who in my age group this car is specifically designed to target, but it’s not me, and I don’t know anyone else that would be interested. The folks in my age group that I interect with professionally and socially seem to mostly drive Camrys, Civics, and domestic pickups, in other words, the same stuff their parents and grandparents also buy.

  • avatar

    Completely unscientific, but I’ve seen a lot more Sparks on the road here (STL metro) than Sonics, not that they’re in droves yet, of course. I don’t have driver age data. Reminds me of sales of the initial Scion xB, where grandparents just liked the roominess and fuel economy even though they weren’t “targeted”

  • avatar
    Joshua Johnson

    One of the memories most deeply ingrained in my mind about car dealers, involves a trip to a Chevrolet dealer with my dad when I was about 16-17. As my dad was taking care of the F&I part of the transaction, I was wandering the showroom when an older salesman came over and chatted me up.

    I don’t remember what I was looking at, but he stated that it was out of my price range and that I should come back and see him when I was older and had a job, at which point he would help me purchase a Cobalt. I don’t think I had ever felt that insulted before or since that day. His patronizing and condescending tone infuriates me to this day.

    I naturally thought to myself, “challenge accepted,” and worked toward being able to afford a much better car than anything Chevrolet had to offer. Looping back to the article, this car and others like it suggests to me financial defeatism- or the inability to afford anything more expensive or of better quality.

    I am therefore another statistic indicating the aspirational materialism of the Millennial generation, but was one of the few that graduated college with little debt and obtained a decent paying job.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    Good meme this one. The Spark is indeed nothing that I would buy or would want one of my kids to drive. However, I can see why an older empty-nester would want one over a used car. New equals Warranty and presumably no maintenance worries. And the GM marketing claiming its the latest and hippest means mid-lifers can feel like they’re still cool and stylish. Brilliant actually.

  • avatar
    rampriscort

    I think dolorean is onto this one – target upmarket look/feel to the young guys who don’t want to look poor by showing them with 30-40 rich guys; sell youth/energy to the 40+ crowd who want to think they are younger by showing the car at parties, the beach etc. That’s brilliant.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Say what you will about Gen-Y, but they are not stupid. This car is cheap, but it comes at a huge cost of practicality and usability.

    This generation would more prefer something like a Civic, Mazda3, Jetta, etc. They can carry five real adults and some luggage. They also get close to 40mpg, on the highway, so they are inexpensive to run.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Is it just me, or does the picture of this car give anybody else the urge to stomp on a stink bug beetle like I used to as a kid (my mom didn’t like them in her garden)?

    It’s the 21st-century version of the Geo Metro IMO, and I think they sold a lot of those too.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve got a ’97 4 door Metro (4 cyl, 5 spd) w/ 185k. I keep thinking that Chevy isn’t that dumb to have a ‘price leader’ like the spark. It gets people in the showroom. Worst case: the customer walks out w/ a new car at a used car price.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    I know I’ve asked this question before, but I don’t remember what the answer was, if indeed anyone was able to provide one. I think, in fact, that it was in a thread about the Chevy Spark…

    Why are manufacturers/marketers chasing young buyers? Why would you care about a demographic that, generally speaking, doesn’t have any money? The ones who do certainly have no interest in something that looks cheap, and the ones who don’t, don’t.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the cost of this thing ($13k +) is greater that the total of payments on a lease for an entry level highline brand car, so for 3 years of $3-400/mo, you can have this, which will be worth nothing in 2015, or a BMW/Audi/Whatever, which you can then turn in for whatever lease-another-one incentive is going, and start again. Now, *I* wouldn’t do that, but I’m no longer young enough to think that way.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      I think one general answer as to why target young buyers is to foster brand loyalty so that that group will follow your brand as they grow. Get their interest while they’re young and you have a “customer for life” which sustains your business for the foreseeable future.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      They want to hook them while they’re young, in the hopes of turning them into lifetime customers. Buy a Spark right out of college, a Cruze when you get married, an Equinox when you have a couple of kids, and an Impala when you retire.

      Plus, younger people actually tend to have a larger amount of disposable income, as a percentage of total income at least. They may be able to budget a larger portion of their income for a fanciful new car purchase than an older buyer that, while earning a much higher salary, also has to deal with paying a mortgage and supporting 2-3 kids.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      “…so for 3 years of $3-400/mo, you can have this, which will be worth nothing in 2015…”

      The benefit of buying this is you own it. Most cars will last well over 100,000 miles so instead of entering a perpetual lease one would buy this and be done with it.

      Horses for courses.

      • 0 avatar
        ranwhenparked

        That’s true for some industries/companies/people, but first impressions do still matter. You don’t turn up for an important meeting in jeans and a T-shirt anymore than you clutter your desk with Hello Kitty accessories. Your car is a part of that.

        Doesn’t have to be expensive, but if you want to be percieved as a professional adult, it really does help to at least look like a professional adult. You still have to back that up with some actual substance, of course, but if that substance has been preceeded by a good impression, things only get easier from there.

        I’m telling you right now that in a conservative company, a lime green Spark is going to stick out in a very bad way in a sea of silver Accords.

  • avatar
    -Cole-

    “The Spark is unlikely to lose sales to the larger Chevrolet Sonic… because the smaller model has dramatically different styling and appeals to a different buyer”

    The oldest people want the tiniest, weirdest looking cars? Is that so?

  • avatar
    Marko

    Is this car becoming popular among the RV crowd as a tow-behind vehicle?

    • 0 avatar

      I, personally, haven’t seen one but…if I were an RV owner considering a Spark, I would be deterred by the REALLY big head lights. I’d be fearful of cracking them w/ stones kicked up from behind the RV.

      I have a ’97 Metro with 185k (b/c it was towed behind an RV most of it’s life). It has a LOT of stone chips on the hood/bumper/lights.

  • avatar

    I thought the reason young people aren’t so much into the Spark is because there’s nothing to get emotional about. It isn’t sporty in anyway, it isn’t luxurious, it isn’t stylish. There’s nothing about it to fall in love with.

    The notion that hatchbacks have a poverty stigma among young people is absurd. I’ve seen plenty of people my age with 500s and Fiestas and Sonics and even larger cars like the Mazda3 and Focus are fequently hatches. The thing is, all of those cars have something appealing about them. The Spark is practicality and practicality only. Which is probably why it appeals to frugal, reasonable-minded older buyers. It’s the new Aveo or Versa in spirit.

    The Sonic is not that much more costly for a car that appeals much more to younger buyers. And if you wanted cheap wheels, you can get some really nice used cars for the price of a new Spark. I don’t think the Spark is bad or can’t sell to young people, but that market just isn’t as focused on all of the rational considerations.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    For something like this, knowing the average is not enough. You also need the standard deviation (and the mode wouldn’t hurt, either.)

    Sales to a 70 year old and a 26 year old will yield an average age of 48. You can expect cars like this to skew to extremes compared to other classes.

    If it was selling primarily to older people, then I would expect the average age to be in the 60s, not late 40s. These days, late 40s is younger than the US market average.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    I see a number of Sparks in Chicago, including the off-pink ones. While I don’t think they appeal to entitled mentality of gen-y (stereotypes cut both ways) that thinks they are worthy a BMW just for graduating college with a business degree, people much more careful with their money (and less likely to default on their loan, too!) are buying them just like with the original xB. The real question is will GM be okay with that and sell as many as they can or kill their sales stream trying to chase the original target group?

    Hopefully they’ll take Scion’s example to heart and avoid making the same mistake.

  • avatar
    david42

    The analysis is completely inverted.

    The WRONG question is: Are most Sparks bought by Millenials?

    The RIGHT question is: Of the cars that Millenials are buying, how many are Sparks?

    We shouldn’t call the Spark a failure if older people buy it. Millenials aren’t buying a lot of cars anyway, and that’s driven by trends that no manufacturer can reverse. The question should be: for those Millenials who actually are in play, how many of them are buying the Spark as opposed to something else?

    Which is not to say that the Spark will do any better by this measure. Young people are, shall we say, financially inexperienced and would rather buy a flashy used car than a solid new vehicle with a warranty. (That’s why the first car I bought myself was a cranky old Subaru SVX. A terrible idea financially… yet it made me happier than almost anything else I’ve owned since.)

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “The WRONG question is: Are most Sparks bought by Millenials?”

      No, if the goal is to build a youth nameplate, then it is the right question to ask. Having a lot of conspicuous older buyers can compromise a youth marketing effort, as they can taint the message. Sales volume for the sake of it is not always the objective; branding matters, too.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Demographics and the Delorean hitting 88MPH are just distractions. This is a cheap car sold to people who buy cheap cars. In the past GM has treated small cars like they should be something you should be ashamed of. Buy our cheap shoddy small car and aspire to something better in the GM lineup. The Japanese cleaned their clock over that leap of stupidity. I can see a TTAC blog in 15 years about the Spark and three pretty much standard responses: 1. Couldn’t wait to get rid of it, 2. Got it from mom and dad and it’s still going strong. 3. 384000 miles, me and the auto parts place keep her running.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    I do not see GM chasing any particular market with the Spark.
    What I do see is GM presenting an automobile that appeals to the youthful spirit in all of us at a frugal price.
    So, the Spark should have various degrees of appeal to most people. I think this type of appeal is demonstrated by robust sales and the average buyer age.

  • avatar
    BrianL

    Derek,
    Honestly, this is pretty weak. Most young people don’t buy new cars. But, often the marketing for some new small cars is towards young people. This isn’t a Chevy problem. Ford Fiesta, Scion, and others have followed suit. Do they sell to younger audiences? Well, not on average. Most new cars sales average buyer age is probably over 50.

    So, really, you should be asking different questions.

    1) What car has the highest percentage of young buyers?
    2) What car has the highest number of young buyers?
    3) How does the Spark compare with average age of all buyers?
    4) Why does any car company market to young buyers when young buyers don’t buy new cars?

    Honestly, just saying the average age is 40 something so the marketing isn’t working they way they want it to is just wrong when you haven’t asked the other questions.

  • avatar
    Signal11

    Wow. This analysis full of fail.

    Average age of NEW car buyers in the US: 56.
    Average age of ALL car buyers in the US: 51.

    If two 25 year olds and two 65 year olds each buy the same model of car, what is their average age? Their average age is 45.

    This can means something different from the statement that the “average buyer” is age X.

    Something I’ve noticed about many senior citizens in urban/semi-urban areas is that ease of parking and ingress/egress becomes a priority for them. This is one of the reasons why they’re buying Kia Souls and the like in droves.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Is the Spark truly an asset to GM? I think that younger people buy used cars. Younger peoples’ parents MIGHT buy a Spark for them. I foresee most of these Sparks (like Elements before them) going to older people who are downsizing. As a car driver who is over 65, I’ve moved down in sticker price and size over the last twenty years. Fixed income means that as gas prices, insurance, parking fees rise something has to give. The amount left to spend on the car decreases, and ergo, the size of the affordable vehicle. Spark will steal from Sonic; Sonic will steal from Cruze; Cruze will steal sales from Malibu; Malibu will steal sales from………. Does GM really need a Spark??

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Maybe the current economic circumstances has changed our consumption habits a bit. I visited the not-very-expensive big city last weekend and noticed a lot of shoppers in what was for that city a boutiiki part of the blue collar town. Things aren’t particularly popping economically in our area.

    My theory? Most people have maintained employment during the recession, but everyone has cut back in spending. In America, pretty much all discretionary income gets put into a house. What little is left over goes into a car. I think what I saw last week were people who are doing a bit better economically who deferred the new car or bigger house purchase, who have now decided they kind of like being able to spend money on things that don’t involve real estate or cars.

  • avatar

    The metro sold very well. They were willing, efficient, reliable, soldiers. It gave a good rep for GM. I’m not a big GM fan, but it’s too bad for GM that they used the Geo name instead of Chevy (until ’98). I just really really think the spark is a very good idea for Chevy.

  • avatar

    Maybe more Gen y ‘ers would pick it if it wasn’t so ugly. Don’t blame them for having taste. I would like to know who saw the design and said “lets make it! “. Can’t compare sales to a $25K fr-s. Chevy needs a frs/genesis coupe rival more importantly than this atrocity. The spark need not sell to Gen y ‘ers as long as it brings new customers who would never Chevy showrooms. Chevy needs a city car to grab market share it sorely needs in urban areas. What it needs is the Opel Adam rebadged as a spark in the us.

  • avatar
    sunridge place

    The real ‘truth’ about the Spark marketing is that there really isn’t very much of it due to $$.

    Its not like they are running TV spots for this vehicle and choosing between placing ads on MTV vs Wheel of Fortune. I don’t think a single TV commercial exists.

    There is very little margin or volume of sales in the segment to support it.

    I see two efforts to market the Spark beyond the free or very cheap social media efforts.

    1. Sponsorship of an event called The Color Run around the country…hardly a hardcore Gen Y play. Its actually a series of charity fun runs around the country with a bit of a twist.

    http://thecolorrun.com/

    2. Sponsorship of something called Cover the World which is tied to MTV and up and coming bands.

    http://www.covertheworld.com/

    Both look like pretty cheap plays.

    If you really want to analyze a marketing effort of a vehicle, one should actually look at the marketing effort and provide analysis versus looking at an average age metric that really doesn’t tell the whole story.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    sorry but I just remember those British comedies where it seemed that everyone drove a Geo Metro…
    I sure hope the U.S.hasn’t fallen that far!

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    For the amusement of all…

    I am precisely 48 years old. My current car is a 1st gen Scion xB. Just under 60k, and nothing wrong with it, but sometimes I get the new-car “itch”, so I went and looked at a Spark. Two problems, as far as my situation is concerned:

    a] The Spark does precisely *nothing* better than my xB1. My suspicion is that I could drive my 2005 car for more years (looking forward) than a new Spark would last.

    b] To get a decent equipment level, I would require a 1LT Spark. That’s close to $15k. For that money, and at the same equipment lever, a FIAT 500 Pop is WAY more car than a Spark.

    I’m sticking with the xB1.

  • avatar
    nadude

    Lighten up. We will sell this car to anyone who wants to buy it. It is a unique size and style, and it is selling well–end of story–no over-thought demographics.

  • avatar
    shaker

    And the car is $cheap$ $cheap$ $cheap$, which (in these times) appeals to a wide demographic, no matter how they try to market it.

    With Sonics pushing over $20k, this is the only true “entry level” Chevy.

  • avatar
    toomanycrayons

    “Spark customers appear to be older, frugal and divorced from the notion that one’s wheels are integral to one’s identity.”

    Is that “code” for…NOT hopey-changey?

  • avatar
    tparkit

    My own sense is that this post is taking GM’s bait by thinking the contrast is between GM trying to market the Spark to younger people but ended up selling it to an older demographic.

    I don’t think selling to youngsters is what GM was aiming at. Nor are the other makers of tiny cars. IMO, we’re seeing these little cars because the automakers have correctly judged that western societies are headed into a permanently-poorer future. That’s what we’re seeing arise as Europe’s economies implode, and as our own mirage of bubble-era prosperity melts into a disability-for-all, Foodstamp Nation.

    However, the automakers will never position these units as cars for a poor people. Instead, they will tell us they’re hip, “city-smart”, eco-friendly, and show that the buyer is ironically detached and too cool to need an identity boost from a car. They will say anything except, “We make this because it’s all you can afford anymore.”

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      I agree with your last paragraph. You have to give people a reason to buy your product besides the fact tht it is a cheap bottom-feeder. This was what Detroit used to do in the past. They build some cheap, junk econoboxes whose main selling point was “since you can’t afford a Buick, this crap box is the best you can do for now”.

      I don’t buy the ‘heading into a permanently poorer future’ bit though. New car prices have been creeping up and coming with more and more features and gizmos every year. And car sales have been fairly robust the last 2 year. And let’s be honest here- a regular american who is not doing so hot economically, is not going to buy a new Spark or any new car. He’s going to buy a used Taurus.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Seen only 3 on the road, a woman in her 40′s an older guy and a woman with 3 kids going to school, no teenagers or gen Y drivers yet. Alternative to used wheels for these folks, I guess.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    BTW I recall when the xA came out seeing a bunch of baby boomers and seniors driving the darn thing, the amount of standard equipment was a big plus for this entry level Scion.

  • avatar
    Whuffo2

    I’m somewhat amused by many of the comments offered here.

    Firstly, the targeted “college graduate” market doesn’t have sufficient discretionary funds to buy one of these. They’ll have to settle for something used – or maybe a bicycle.

    Next, that whole “aspriational” market stuff is somewhat ridiculous. If you (or those you interact with) use the vehicle you drive to determine your worth as a human being, choose different friend and employers. If you believe the same, seek professional help.

    Cars provide transportation; they’re a depreciating asset and impose their own particular set of costs and annoyance. When you’re doing your commute to work, consider this: a Ferrari goes just as fast as a sh!tbox does in traffic – and costs a lot more doing it. The mature (and smarter) folks realize this and do the sensible thing and buy a sh!tbox. They save money every day – and spend it on the more important things in life.

    It usually takes a few decades for these thoughts to rattle around in the average American’s head before they figure it out. That’s why most of the sh!tboxes sell to mature people; not only because it’s sensible, but also because they’re the group that has the resources to buy one of them.

  • avatar
    TW4

    Car manufacturers will never sell to Gen Y b/c car manufacturers refuse to accept that cars are commodities. They imagine that every new vehicle is a life affirming purchase, and the prospective buyer is eager to sift through dozens of options scams and artificial value-added accessories. Additionally, manufacturers imagine that customers are eager to compare the incongruous trim levels across similar models from different manufacturers.

    I go to Apple. I figure out which iDevice I want. I choose the storage capacity. I choose the color. I pay. I leave. The options simplicity and the economies of scale make the device affordable, and Apple still has plenty of room in the price to rip me off. I’m happy they earn a profit, and I own shares so I get some of the profits myself.

    Auto manufacturers should make vehicles in one trim level–fully loaded. Let me choose a transmission. Let me choose an engine. Let me choose a color. Let me choose alloys/tires. Give me the benefits of efficient manufacturing and efficient distribution, and don’t try to swindle me out of consumer surplus with BS options bundling.

    Chevy is close with the Spark, but the Spark should only come in 2LT trim, and they need to knock about $2,000 off the price. Sadly, the Sonic is hatch/sedan, 4 trims for each variant, and a purposeless 1.8L Inline-4 option. Simplify.

    I’m not paying for waste and I’m not assuming unnecessary financial risk.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      For every “shut up and take my money” consumer like you, there is someone who cares about individual options, doing careful comparisons and wants something unique in a vehicle.

      Most readers of TTAC would probably agree there aren’t ENOUGH stand alone option choices available on modern vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        Freddy M

        Agreed. And most companies already do offer the “Apple” model on most of their cars. It’s the Volume-selling trim (usually mid-grade) that dealers will show prospective clients who seem to not have a clue (or care).

        For the rest of us, there are the higher trim levels and extra options available to choose if we so wish.

        Apple’s business model of minimalist choice, take it or leave it, works for them because they are so dominant in the North American market. But for cars where the market is so fiercely competitive, you have to give the consumer choice, or fall behind.

      • 0 avatar
        Freddy M

        That being said, I think TW4 may have a point that the future of the auto industry may well be in the Apple model. Us old fogies won’t be buying cars forever, and perhaps the Millennial’s purchasing behaviours based on the Apple model may force the auto industry one day to adapt to it.

      • 0 avatar
        TW4

        The manufacturers don’t have a choice. The CBO says taxation will rise from 15% of GDP to 25% of GDP to pay for the boomers. Vehicle operating costs and raw materials costs are probably not going to drop appreciably. Credit will hopefully never be as loose as 2006. The manufacturers have already taken big leaps towards efficiency, with global platforms and streamlined engine portfolios, but they still play games with optioning and they create artificial value with the various trim levels. They are clinging to the old car sales model and clinging to the demographic that prefers it and can afford it. Gen Y cannot and will not pay someone to rip them off.

        Gen Y is not shaped by the actual products within the technology sector per se. We don’t need a car that makes us feel like we are driving a giant cellphone, but we are definitely shaped by the technology business model and industry. Price falls rapidly. Performance increases rapidly. Consumer electronics purchases are frequent. The market is accessible at seemingly limitless price points and everyone wants to own the equipment. Disposal and transfer of electronics is easy, relatively unregulated, and no dealerships are trying to fleece you on the trade value. Electronics options are not fixed at the initial time of purchase; instead, they are endlessly customizable menus, backgrounds, color palettes, ring tones, etc etc. Older demographics also understand the tech market so it’s not like older buyers will stop purchasing vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      TW4, Speaking from my OEM experience, it is not the carmakers clinging to that business model, they would love to simplify their order sheet down to 3 check boxes and sell everyone the same car. Every carmaker would love to transact like Apple.

      It is the different consumer demands that force the volume carmakers to do their best to cater to everyone with option packages. Not to mention the actual physical challenges in the manufacture of complete vehicles vs. consumer electronics.

      We’ve seen standalone options largely disappear from vehicle option sheets. There was a time where you could check off a box for just about everything you did or didn’t want all by itself, no more.

      Apple has created such a cache around their product where demand is high enough that they don’t need you as a customer. They know their customers will snap up whatever is tossed to them then politely ask for more.

      You see this with a few car brands. A good example is Ferrari (seems appropriate an Apple exec joined their board). Certain Japanese brands could afford to do this 25 years ago as well.

      Nowadays, the volume car business is about kissing every customer’s ass, not the other way around, so they do their best to appease with carefully constructed option packages.

      • 0 avatar
        TW4

        I appreciate your industry insight, but I do not agree with your characterization of their attempts to cater to everyone. They are clearly alienating their future customers with an outdated business model, and weak youth sales are sufficient to illustrate the point.

        I understand why car companies cannot replicate the consumer electronics paradigm, but whether they like it or not, they are competing with consumer electronics for discretionary income. Auto manufacturers should not be embracing business policies that make them less competitive. When you consider fuel cost, insurance cost, government taxes and fees, and opportunity costs; car manufacturers have no product for young people. New cars are for inactive middle-aged individuals who’ve been culturally programmed from birth to throw away surplus income on personal transportation. Sure, Gen Y looks at cars to see technological progress, but new vehicle ownership is financially improbable and nearly valueless.

        Car manufacturers know what they have to do to bring new customers into the fray. They refuse. Creating a high-value product for the youth segment would collapse the entire pricing scheme. They don’t want a new pricing model. They don’t want to reduce prices and increase value with manufacturing efficiency. They want to figure out clever ways to make Gen Y behave like everyone else, which is absurd given that we grew up in the digital dotcom marketplace.

        They have to adapt their product development, manufacturing, and pricing to sell their goods in the modern consumer marketplace. They will spend 10 fortunes trying to recreate the consumer behaviors of the 80s and 90s.


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