Posted by: David Welch on September 1, 2010
Some big questions are being asked of the Chevrolet Cruze compact, which is just about hit the market. First, will its conservative styling draw showroom traffic? Will GM’s new marketing minds—namely new marketing Vice President Joel Ewanick and his hand-picked Chevrolet marketing chief Chris Perry, both Hyundai veterans—come up with a way to get consumers interested in this car and the Chevy brand. And will consumers, who are accustomed to shopping Chevy for a low-priced compact, pay up for the $17,000 Cruze? The outgoing Cobalt sold for $1,300 less, though Chevy says the new car has more content and therefore is still a good value.
Every one of those questions will pose a challenge for a car that GM absolutely needs to be successful as the automaker tries to rebuild the Chevy brand. Make no mistake, this will be a big marketing challenge. Chevy has never really had a good compact. The Cobalt was an also-ran, and that’s very generous. The Cavalier before that was also a cut-priced loser. When people think of Chevy, they think of trucks, SUVs, Camaros, maybe the Impala, maybe the Corvette. Small cars have never been the brand’s raison d’etre. So now they are trying to get fatter pricing on a pretty conservative car sold by a brand with no reputation for selling small cars.
The good news is that if GM can get people to give the car a look, the Cruze has some great selling points. I sat in the car at a Chevy event yesterday. The cabin is first rate with attractive design, solid materials in the dash and comfortable seating. Chevy brags that if you load up competing models like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Ford Focus with comparable options, the base model Cruze LS is anywhere from $635 to $1,770 better value.
The best news Chevy has may be the Eco version of the Cruze. A regular Cruze gets 36 miles per gallon on the highway, 2 mpg more than the Focus. The Eco model gets 40 mpg. There’s no hybrid system or high-tech solution. GM’s engineers just wrung out weight, made a few aerodynamic tweaks, added a gear to the manual transmission and gave it some low-rolling resistance tires. It was an old-tech solution to a long-standing problem. At highway speeds, for example, a shutter closes and blocks part of the grille. That cuts wind flow under the can and makes the Cruze slicker in the wind. Simplicity.
Will enough buyers take notice? That’s going to be the real challenge. Sometimes in the car business it takes a few generations of good models before consumers realize that the brand selling them is worth a look. Ewanick and Perry experienced that with Hyundai. They may have to do the same with Chevy.