By on May 9, 2016

Chevrolet Small Cars

The official launch of the first-generation Chevrolet Spark played out like a detective in a comedy film who has to go undercover in a high school, all the while clumsily pretending to be hip.  It was an awkward pander to the Millennial first-time car buyer, set to too-carefully chosen music.

With refreshed and updated small car models on their way (or already here), General Motors wants young people to rediscover their often overlooked bottom-rung vehicles, so it left the marketing to experts.

Today, GM announced that it partnered with media companies .Mic, Complex and Thrillist to hock the Chevrolet Spark, Sonic and Trax, with select videos appearing on Funny or Die and (!) involvement of “up and coming” artists Kickstand Band.

Don’t worry, the marketing will still be all about lifestyles. Synergistic and dynamic lifestyles, one can hope. And it will all go down at a new website dedicated to the models —

Marketing cynicism aside, GM has good reason to prop up the bottom end of its model range. The Spark saw a redesign for 2016, and dropped its questionable 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine in favor of a non-turbo version of the Cruze’s 1.4-liter mill.

The Spark is also a hell of a deal in Canada, where it can be had for less than $10,000. (This’ll get them off their bikes, the bean counters thought.)

The refreshed 2017 Sonic arrives later this year with new looks and buckets of connectivity designed to lure in people who care about that kind of stuff. Sonic sales fell off last year, but it’s still the most popular Chevy among first-time buyers.

The 2017 Trax benefits from a restyle that’s very much in line with its small car stablemates, though it doesn’t get the power boost from its 1.4-liter turbo that its twin, the Buick Encore, receives.

We can only hope that GM goes easy on the emoji use this time.

[Image: General Motors]

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73 Comments on “Chevrolet Really Wants Hip Young People to Think (and Buy) Small...”

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like the exact wrong way to go about getting people in my generation to care about a brand’s cars. The desperation that normally drives young people into subcompact cars just isn’t there. Most of us can do “better”….and will.

  • avatar

    The one review I’ve read of the Trax really savaged it as a cheap, nasty penalty box.

    • 0 avatar
      April S

      I looked over a Trax earlier this year and for me it was a turn off. It had a list price of over $20K and it still lacked a Cruse Control.


  • avatar

    Stuffed animals and teens of undetermined ethnicity! Companies pay big bucks for this stuff, people. Take note.

    Meanwhile, adults can’t differentiate between the Spark and the Sonic because they’re nearly identical and serve the same purpose. Are they on the same platform as well? The Spark is the Aveo, I think.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a little confusiing.

      The Sonic directly replaced the Aveo, and is the essentially the same size and offers the hatch and sedan. In some other markets, the Sonic is sold under the Aveo name. The North American market Sonics are built in Michigan, unlike the Korean built Aveo

      The Spark is smaller in size, and shares little with the Aveo and Sonic. The Spark did not replace any car in Chevy’s ineup. However, it is built at the same Korean factory as the Aveo was. Confusing, huh?

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks, I don’t like how close they are together – they should drop one.

        • 0 avatar

          But the Spark occupies a niche that is absolutely vital to GM’s continued existence–they need a four-door microcar to compete with the Smart Forfour!

          • 0 avatar

            Is the Smart ForFour even available in the US? I rented a Smart once. I was expecting a free upgrade, but the berstids still had one available, and wanted me to pay to upgrade. My sister’s 82 year old mother-in-law had no trouble getting in the front passenger seat. The back seat is good for a 12 gallon cooler, or four bags of groceries. Not enough power OR fuel economy. GM has to provide one or the other at that level. This is NOT a customer retention vehicle.

          • 0 avatar

            No; perhaps I should have added “/s” to be safe.

            The point of a microcar isn’t that it gets even better MPG than a subcompact (it usually doesn’t); it’s that you can drive and park it even more easily in a crowded urban environment. And we don’t really have many of those in the U.S.

      • 0 avatar
        April S

        The Aveo was a gutless wonder. No power (especially when equipped with the automatic transmission) plus the interior was so cheap (I rented one and it was 300 miles of misery). I test drove a 2016 Sonic and it was eons better. Soother ride and the engine was refined and had much more power (it was even fun to drive). I almost bought one to replace my Mazda2 but the Salesperson and Sales Manager I dealt with really turned me off with the stupid and insulting games they decided to play when it came in negotiating a final price. Oh, and the same thing happened when I went to a second Chevrolet dealership.

        Anyway, I thought new car dealers were supposedly getting away from all that nonsense.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        The Spark is descended from the Daewoo Matiz (of Chery qq fame) and competes against stuff like the Ford Ka.

  • avatar

    I rented the smallest Chevy (Spark?) while in Florida for a couple days and it was a hoot. A real novelty, like driving a fun clown car. I just couldn’t see myself actually owning one. And the trendy emoji commercials make me cringe.

  • avatar

    This ad campaign is the equivalent of this.

  • avatar

    I really want to watch the typical tobacco-stained, straw hat wearing, Silverado-peddling Chevy salesmen try to sell a purple Spark to a Millennial that got interested in the car from Thrillist.

  • avatar

    The ‘hip’ crowd has a very limited attention span, only til the next in thing comes along. Not much for brand building.

    • 0 avatar

      And even worse – hip things are a flash in the pan and avoided like fire after they become ‘played out’.

      It’s not a recipe for success to sell a car as a fashion item to someone who can’t afford to change their car like they might change other fashionable things like clothes.

      I don’t know who Chevy is targeting with their mass media ads but I don’t think they’re getting their money’s worth.

      Their truck ads are a bunch of 30-somethings sitting around talking about purchasing masculinity. Their CUV/sedan ads are people conflating a leather interior with a luxury badge ‘omg leather and a back-up camera? this must be why people buy Audis/BMWs/Lexus/Mercedes’

      They’d do better just treating their customers like people: yo guys you have a lot of options, check out the malibu if you want a car that’s comfortable for 4 tall people. Check out the impala if these people are fat and tall. Check out the Equinox if you have kids because kids love onstar wifi. Check out the cruze if you don’t have a lot of money and if you want to seem fun and don’t know any better, get one of the subcompacts.

  • avatar

    Maybe it’s time for an update on TTAC’s own The Truth About Caroline? She bought the Sonic to get more power than the Spark – and she’s the demographic Chevrolet is hoping to land.

    It could be just the driver disposition, but I don’t see the Spark/Sonic drivers lingering at the light when it goes red to green. They do appear to flog them for all they are worth.

    I saw one of these new the other day – whichever they redesigned – and it looked less like a childhood drawing from the 1980s, but that could detract from its charm in certain quarters.

    • 0 avatar

      Flood damage, as I recall:

      Haven’t heard anything from her or the Sonic since.

  • avatar

    My husband and I are two of the Milennials (aged 33 and 28) that Chevy is trying to persuade, and we just bought our new Sonic this past January.

    It’s our second brand new car, just after buying our first brand new one a year earlier, a Honda Fit, that we couldn’t get out of soon enough. So, we’re hoping the Sonic will be a better experience and we may eventually consider it as our first true new car. Kind of like a “do-over”

    We tested every car in this category; test drove them, rented them….domestics, Koreans, Japanese……before we came to choose between the Fit and the Sonic. The mid-level LT is a great value, especially with the generous rebates Chevy was offering.

    The styling appealed to us first. It’s unique with its motorcycle inspired influences; the exposed headlights, digital instrument panel were different without being obnoxious. Love or like it, the digital gauges are easy to read at a glance, and just look cool. We like them. The Sonic just had some personality that was lacking in many of the other cars

    The big car feel won us over too. The Sonic weighs more than most in this category, and it’s apparent with more of a big car feel, large cushy seats, and quiet interior. It didn’t feel like a tin can like most small cars.

    Although most fellow millennials wouldn’t care; the fact it was made in the US was a big selling point too.

    It isn’t all perfect, fuel economy isn’t as good as some of the competition, and the back seat isn’t nearly as usable as a Versa or a Fit

    Regardless, we were won over by the Sonic’s style, price, and comfort. It had the right balance of everything. We also looked at the new Spark, which seems much improved over the old version, but it was just a little too small, and still made in Korea. However, it also seemed like a nice, appealing package

    • 0 avatar

      Was the Fit really that bad? Was it the second-gen Fit, or the new one? I thought that the Fit was considered best in class, but maybe that was a few years ago. I thought the old Fit Sport was cool, but I guess not many more did, since it disappeared after the second gen.

      • 0 avatar

        He might have bought a Mexican made Fit. I haven’t heard good things about those.

        Right now, US Fits are made in Japan and they’re supposed to be fantastic. I’d have one right now if they made 6th gear shorter.

        • 0 avatar

          Good question DukeisDuke,
          It was one of the Mexican-made 2015 models. It was one of the first ones available, when we bought it in late 2014.

          Like Yamahog stated, the gearing on our six-speed manual was off, and sixth needed to be higher. This caused lots of engine noise on highways that was tiresome after a few hours.

          But the quality on this car was shameful for any manufacturer, and especially Honda. Within two weeks of ownership, we had a defective alternator. The remaining issues over 5k miles of having the car were more related to trim: sagging front bumper, headliner that started to sag, creaks and rattles in the doors and hatch, water-filled taillight, creaking clutch pedal, rear hatch trim that came off….. all minor, but annoying on a new car, and showed obvious lack of attention to detail.

          But I do hear that the two first generations of Fit were bulletproof and extremely reliable, and that things have improved for 2016 with the Japanese made Fits.

          • 0 avatar

            Cheers mate – you’re right the 6th gear is too short. I intended to say ‘6th is too short it needs to be taller’. the Mexican fits are shameful. Apparently they weren’t as bad towards the end, but Honda recognized the quality problem and now they just make the HR-Vs there. It really simplifies everything to just make one type of car in a factory.

            Hope you didn’t get too hosed trading it in. The used market for Hondas and Toyotas is dumb as heck which hopefully worked in your favor.

          • 0 avatar

            Wow, how GM(?) of Honda…

            I rented a Sonic to head to Chicago and back, and it got 41 mpg on the way there, and 38 on the way home. Loaded with luggage for a week, it was quiet and serene if a bit under powered.

            A car I would never have considered, except that it just worked. How do they hold up long term?

        • 0 avatar
          April S

          During my search for a Mazda2 replacement I test drove a new 2015 Fit. While it seemed put together well (it was manufactured in Japan) I had to pass due to it being so under powered (yes, it had the automatic transmission). It also came off unacceptably noisy and unrefined. It would not be a fun place to be on even a moderate length trip.

    • 0 avatar

      Do you like, work for GM marketing or something?

      Can you please tell Melody I’d like my dog’s leash back?


  • avatar

    Ugh. That microsite is just…not…good. And I’m a millenial!

    All it’s missing is the omnipresent “la-lalala” xylophone soft rock playing in the background, or failing that, dubstep.

  • avatar

    Weird, I click on and it redirects me to a non-functioning Daewoo website.

    And here’s an idea for a motto: “Chevy Sonic, now with more Aveo!”

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know if you forgot the “/s”, but I was able to load the obnoxious site which runs horribly in Chrome on this eight processor Core i7 Dell Precision.

      Really take a look at the busy picture which shows the three models on the site, some of the items in it are just bizarre. A parking meter with change on the ground, a stuffed animal family, a large set of speakers, a cactus, a black arm behind a curtain (?) holding a megaphone.

      What is this, a new Denver Airport mural to decipher GM? Do “millennials” get free parking when playing loud music in the desert and come home to cuddle with stuffed animals? How much lead or mercury do you think your target audience has consumed?

      “SMALLMATE: An awesome yet small car ideally suited to being a close friend or adventuring partner”

      You forgot totally tubular and a few radicals thrown in for good measure. I’m sure that Chevy Spark is great for adventuring to Burning Man to smoke dope and worship Moloch.

      “MORE SMALL”

      Because “smaller” isn’t a word and we’d prefer to use malformed English.

      • 0 avatar

        If they could just partner with Coke to introduce some Surge to their ads, and maybe some extreme sports, the Millenials would be all over these cars.

  • avatar

    They styled all of the charm out of the Spark, both on the exterior and interior. The sonic and the old Spark have always been the only products made by GM that appeal to me in the slightest, except maybe the Cruze if I was shopping entirely based on value for money since they were pretty much giving them away.

    Sadly this is quite an improvement on Chevy’s current TV ad campaign, which should be eligible for worst advertising campaign of all time.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. The Sonic is one of GM’s better entries; hence why I bought one. The new Spark and ’17 Sonic are still handsome, but gone is the quirky charm of the Sonic’s quad headlight treatment, and the Spark’s “excited potato” look. Their unique styling was one of the few things that made them stand out

      And the latest Chevy ads with the focus groups are just awful. Especially the Malibu ones. If I see a new Malibu on the road, I think to myself “that must be the new $70k Jagaur! Obviously, the people that attended these groups haven’t seen a car in years

      • 0 avatar

        Any Sonic complaints, however small they may be?

        • 0 avatar

          Nothing too serious to complain about. I do wish rear visibility was slightly better due to the hatch’s thick roof pillars, and the front end is so low that it scrapes on many speed bumps or dips

          Quality wise it seems pretty solid. The only defect so far has been the carpeting bunching up in the driver’s footwell. A strange issue, and I’ll address it when it goes in for an oil change. Otherwise, it’s been very solid thus far, but it’s still only three months into owning the car

  • avatar

    The marketing for Scion and Smart is still obnoxiously aimed at hip young people. It didn’t work very well for Scion and it isn’t working very well for Smart.

    I never was hip (although for a time I was once delusional enough to think so) and I’m certainly no longer young. However, I think hip young people find this kind of marketing kind of patronizing. But what do I know.

    Excuse me while I go yell at some little bastards playing on my lawn.

  • avatar
    daniel g.

    Bring the spark with the 1.4 turbo and we have a super deal.

  • avatar

    Can’t you go get a jetta for super cheap?

    There’s always the Chrysler 200…

    Yeah, I think I’d go get one of those…

    • 0 avatar

      Yep there are always better choices than these. I’m not very tall (maybe 5’11”) but with two adults of this size onboard with a kid and maybe some shopping… good luck with that chicken coop and the 1.4 n/a.

      But I suppose you get that Chevy new car experience. (LOL).

  • avatar

    I just find GM seems to go out of their way to make the base trims on their smaller cars look so much cheaper than the higher spec models, like they’re trying to penalize you for not spending more money. I like the Sonic plenty, but but the time I’d spend what GM seems to want me to spend on one, I’m at a point where a Fiesta ST is a reasonable option. That doesn’t seem like a great way to win over buyers on a budget.

  • avatar

    “Ohhh pretty colors! Stuffed animals! Beards! Mustaches! Guitars! Chevy small cars totally get me!”

    Ugggggh, this is painful, really painful. I’m not even totally sure who this is aimed at.. I feel like it’s someone on the younger side of the millennial generation like me @21 or recent graduates especially women but it’s not like they probably have money for a new car.

    The worst part? Playing around on the site I honestly kinda liked it. Yeah, I’m personally not interested in the cars, but I gotta say they did a good job. They really went for over the top I feel like with trying to make it feel young and fun, and it makes it way more tolerable. Definitely better then the underground-super urban Scion youth attempts I saw. Well, if you need me I’ll be burning my Let’s Get Weird shirts and tank.

  • avatar

    They are buying small, usually Priuses, but on occasion a Camaro.

  • avatar

    As a 25 year old millennial who drives an ’07 Buick Lacrosse and loves it, I always find this kind of stuff pretty amusing (another one was the Chevy New Roads magazine that came in the mail recently with obligatory article on the “millennial city movement” or whatever). I also cross-shopped an ’01 Town Car and an ’04 Park Ave, although I’m a.) not hip and just like what I like and b.) probably the exception and not the rule!

    • 0 avatar

      “As a 25 year old millennial who drives an ’07 Buick Lacrosse”

    • 0 avatar

      I bought my first Buick, a 1988 Electra T-Type, when I was 28.

      Do your friends start walking toward another car when they ride with you and then say “Hey, that isn’t a Buick!”?

  • avatar

    Chevy may want people to buy the Spark, but Chevy *dealers* do not.

    When they first came out, I went to test-drive one. The salesman asked if I ever drove on the highway, and when I said “of course”, he told me I did not want a Spark. Salesmanship at its finest!

    Millennials also must not want clutches. Every Chevy dealer in Las Vegas stocks a single, stripped out Spark LS, in either white or gray, with a manual transmission. That’s the “bait-and-switch” model.

    If you want power windows and a clutch, you can’t buy a Spark in Las Vegas, because the dealer won’t sell it.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny enough, the dealer I visited in Portland also had one manual base model on the lot. But they also had a few Spark EVs as well. What wasn’t funny was the difference in lease deals. The EV was on a $109/mo with $499 down, 36 months at 10K a year. You couldn’t get near the gas one for money like that. Bumping it up to 12K per year gets you to $115.86, and Chevy pays the first payment. They’ll sell (lease) you one of those. “I’ll take it.” Less than 90 minutes later I was home in my new car.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    This is my 2 cent read: Subliminal sales scenarios aimed at young working women and those dreaming of their first job. Style: Child’s click-on program.

    1. (Day) Working got no ride you have child care and/or you’re an adventurous wanderer. Subliminal alternate ending: The overbearing guy you rely on leaves and it’s your ride. Easy going low maintenance guy can stay. Maybe you’ll give him a ride or he can share the car with you and your kid.

    2. (Evening) Meet weird guys (entertaining masked men): drink (energy drink, megaphone, camping lantern cup), sleep with them (hotel, sleeping bag, bedroom animals), you’re far away (map, boonies), got your own ride home.

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