Tru 140S concept drew huge crowd. We see a little Lamborghini Countach and Astra GTC influence in the styling

Tru 140S concept drew huge crowd. We see a little Lamborghini Countach and Astra GTC influence in the styling

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General Motors' Chevrolet division is taking a completely new approach to marketing the brand to young buyers aged 18-30 – the 'millennials'. Two concept coupes unveiled here in Detroit are the first results of a new strategy in which youthful potential buyers are invited to be part of the design process and advertising is heavily skewed towards social media.

“While there are similarities between this generation and the one before it, there are also fundamental differences, that are important to understand,” GM global director of youth strategy, John McFarland, told the audience before the covers came off the front-drive Tru140S which looks like a sleeker reskin of the European Opel Astra GTC sport hatchback with some Lamborghini Countach influence, and the rear-drive Code 130R, a scaled-down Camaro from the rear.

“They literally grew up in a digital age. It's often said that many fail to remember a time before Facebook and their digital identities are inseparable from who they are in their daily lives at home, at school and at work.”

Relations and interactions between automaker and this pool of potential buyers need to be different.

“This potentially reduces the need for as many face-to-face interactions,” McFarland said. “There are simply easier alternatives. That may explain why fewer people are getting their driving licences as soon as they turn 16. The digital worlds provide social experiences that were previously only possible by leaving your driveway.”

Brand passions, too are different. The car-mad teenager of before has been replaced by one more passionate about technology brands such as Apple and sports wear brands like Nike with cars “somewhere in the middle”.

McFarland said all 80m millennials cannot be grouped into one category and there is a diverse variety of needs and wants which automakers must address.

GM is doing just that, “engaging with over 9,000 young consumers last year alone”. And discovering that 42% - 32m - are interested in cars “but are waiting for a brand that truly gets them and is able to capture their hearts. At Chevrolet, we want to take this initial interest and turn it into a passion by giving them exactly what they want and then delivering it to capture their hearts and minds.

“We just have to stay true to the promise of our brand but do some things differently. So we are. We're seeking out their guidance, we're listening to their opinions and we're inviting them into our processes like never before, from product planning to design and marketing, we're engaging in new and meaningful ways. And we're asking them to show us the way.

“We're doing this because the opportunity is so huge and we're doing this by going back to the core values of what Chevrolet has stood for, for over 100 years: passion, perfomance, affordability and a youthful spirit.”

He cited a conversation he had with a young woman in California about her car and she described the features she liked and how it had protected her from injury in an accident. Safe and reliable. But did she love her car?

Her reply: “It's kinda like an ugly boyfriend, you know? “It's good to me but, the second something better comes along, it's out the door.”

McFarland: “Her car did everything right, it got all the fundamentals, it captured her mind but it did not capture her heart.

“We believe we can capture the hearts and minds of these new consumers and become one of the brands across all industries that they truly love.”

“Today's younger generation will be a driving force in the automotive market for years ahead, said GM's Americas chief Mark Reuss.

He said lots are buying cars right now and GM's new models, such as the Sonic (Aveo in other markets) and the Cruze were popular with millennials.

“Compact cars are the vehicle choice in this age group and Cruze is very popular with the sub-30 crowd, helping grow the brand's share of young buyers by 1% [year on year in 2011].

The Sonic, now US-built unlike its imported predecessor, was launched just a few months ago and was, Reuss said, designed for young buyers “and we've changed our marketing approach accordingly. Very non-traditional, I'm very proud of that.”

Three months on from launch, Chevy has yet to run a TV ad, opting instead for a “strong online presence”. 

“And we're barely keeping up with demand.” The Sonic has a 17-day turn rate on dealer forecourts and 16,000 have been sold so far.

There will be TV advertising soon, around Superbowl time. Games will also be streamed live this year for the first time and the internet feed to your iPad will be "brought to you by Chevrolet", a GM spokesman said.

The Sonic range will soon be widened with the sporty 1.4-litre turbo RS version, shown as a five-door in Detroit and very close in final US production form to a three-door mockup designer GM Korea showed us in Seoul at the end of 2010.

One more model will round out Chevrolet's renewed compact car line for the US and Canada. That's the 2013 Spark, already on sale in Europe and Asia, and due out this side of the Atlantic next summer. Some US states such as California will also get an all-electric version next year.

Further out are completely new models like, or at least influenced by, the two new concept coupes.

Talking to millennials, GM found that 75% said auto brands should “engage them and ask their opinions on the cars". And two bodystyles dominated conversation – both four-passenger coupes – so they were developed into the concepts revealed in Detroit. Those consulted on initial design have seen them both - and approved - and Chevy now plans to take them out and show them to more.

“I guess we call it 'crowdsourcing',” Reuss said.

Both are four-passenger performance coupes which Reuss said “really seem to resonate with this audience” who are attracted to coupe styling but want to take friends along. Both concepts have 1.4-litre turbo engines and can achieve 40mpg. If built today, they'd be priced from $20,000.

Reuss said he hoped cars like this would help the brand “reconnect Chevrolet with consumers as it has done in the past”.

“We hope to win hearts and minds... like the brand once did and make existing customers the most loyal yet.

“If there's a way to do it, Chevrolet is going to find it.”