General Motors' Chevrolet division, like just about every automaker in recent months, been enjoying huge sales of small cars. That's especially good news for the domestics because, for so many years, they relied on trucks, as they had essentially been giving the car market to Toyota and Honda, both of which have also seen big gains in car sales.
At next week's SEMA (Specialty Equipment Makers Association) Show, the automaker will be promoting its small-car lineup as a customizer's dream. Chevrolet will have a stable of Spark, Sonic and Cruze concepts on hand. They will be on show as much to tout the creative potential of the division's Z-Spec parts lineup as to promote the resurgence of Chevrolet cars.
"We've been focusing on that since 2010," says Jim Campbell, VP of Chevrolet performance vehicles and motorsports, adding that now small cars comprise 60% of everything Chevrolet shows at SEMA. "Ten years ago it would have been all pickup trucks and utilities, and also Corvettes and Camaros. What's exciting for us is that, this year, we only have one pickup truck, the Avalanche. Last year, there were no pickup trucks in the show at all."
What there will be -- among a lot of other things -- is Chevrolet’s Z-Spec treatment for the new Spark, with mesh grille inserts and graphic accents. Campbell explains that a big part of Chevrolet's presence at the show is to test the viability and popularity (among the 65,000 or so buyers there) of these off-the-rack Z-Spec aftermarket parts, many of which will be available for purchase and installation at dealerships by next quarter.
"We created Z-Spec in 2010 specifically to support consumer-customization of the small-car portfolio," he says. The timing is good. The golden bowtie had successful launches of Cruze, Sonic, and now, the Spark micro. Chevy posted a 97% increase in sales of Cruze, Sonic and Spark in September (although both Sonic and Spark are new this year.) The bowtie sold 7,525 Sonics, giving the company 65,000 deliveries of the year-to-date through September. Spark went on sale earlier this year in 18 U.S. markets and recorded 2,223 sales in September. The Cruze has accounted for 180,000 sales year-to-date through nine months, with 25,787 sold in September -- a 42.5% increase over August.
The roster of Z-Spec Sparks, Sonics and Cruzes will also include a Cruze Upscale that plays with the possibilities of using aftermarket applications to transform the Cruze into a luxury compact car via such elements as a "Burnished Brandy Metallic" exterior, and Loft Brown leather seats. The Spark Sinister concept has what Chevrolet calls a "night-racing aesthetic that looks at home in the shadows of a city’s industrial district." The car has a Carbon Flash Metallic exterior with Bahia Red accents and matte-black graphics.
There is also a "Color Run" Spark developed to promote the car's position as official vehicle of the two dozen or so national urban 5K race series by that name, in which thousands of participants are doused from head to toe in different colors for each kilometer. The "Pink Out" Spark is a cancer awareness concept spotlighting the American Cancer Society with a "Techno Pink" exterior with pink ribbon graphics.
Campbell tells Marketing Daily that the Color Run sponsorship is emblematic of how Chevrolet is also putting the cars in cause events and programs with a passionate fan base. Chevrolet is, for example, developing a modification kit for the Sonic that allows owners to customize the car to compete in the SCCA B-Spec amateur racing category.
The market for small car modification is (no surprise) Millennials, notes Campbell. "For us, in large part, it's about attracting new, young buyers to the Chevrolet brand. Personalization is an important part of their lives -- whether it's their computer, their mobile device, iPad, or whatever. Our job is to help them do that.”