Commentary

Chevy Trax Aims For Snow Belt. Snow? What's That?

It’s blizzard time. Soon we’ll see sliding cars, and hear that familiar post-blizzard sound of spinning tires and curses. What better time to talk about all-wheel-drive, and the battle for the snow belt among compact crossovers. The latest one is Chevrolet's new compact crossover, Trax, which just went on sale. 

The car has a big fight ahead of it, both for awareness and for consideration. One way the automaker is doing it is with lots of features, and a base price under $21,000. It has things like standard rearview camera, 4G LTE (AT&T), and lots of infotainment. And all-wheel-drive offered at every trim level. 

The compact crossover market is not an easy one. Trax has to compete with lots of new vehicles: Mazda CX-5, Kia Soul, the new versions of Ford Escape, the Subarus, RAV4, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Cherokee, and probably 10 others I haven't mentioned. The buyers are there, but the competition is brutal. For a brand that hasn't had a compact SUV, and the nameplate isn't familiar, the issue is not just consideration but awareness. 

Betsy Flegg, marketing manager for Trax and the larger Equinox and Traverse SUVs, tells me that the all-wheel-drive feature is one tactic for expanding the vehicle beyond the "smile" markets into the lucrative Northeast states. "All-wheel-drive at all trim levels gives us a good chance against brands like Subaru in the Northeast, and we think the Northeast and north-central regions will take over and be much bigger," she says, adding that it also helps build consideration for cars like Cruze and Spark.

As for marketing, Chevrolet Trax is driving all over digital, social and experiential, and swerving from TV. "We are reaching out to younger buyers, and as you know a lot of them are on their phones just about all the time. We’re using mobile, social, internet, radio, and CRM. That’s the emphasis," says Flegg, adding that there will also be a lot of experiential elements. "We have to bring vehicles to them, because they aren't walking into dealerships." Piquing the interest of the 24-34-year-old target consumer by showing them the actual car, Chevrolet will also leverage its relationship with the likes of MLB, and the Country Music Awards. "You will see us rely on social and digital, as well." At the Boston Auto Show, Chevrolet invited female bloggers to review the vehicle. 

I certainly give it a thumbs up. I drove it out to western New York, through a decent amount of snow. Though it wasn't blizzard weather, it was challenging, and the Trax handled it like a half-track. And it’s comfortable, has a nice layout with lots of surprise and delight inside, both from the comfort standpoint and telematics/infotainment side of things. And there's the Internet, mentioned above, that comes at all levels.  

But. A very good friend of mine, an executive with Xerox up in Rochester, was looking to buy a vehicle right in that wheelhouse. I showed him the Trax, and he loved the way it looked, inside and out, liked what it had, was definitely interested, agreeing that it would be a good car for him and his kids. He was all over it. Dot, dot, dot. A week later he calls to announce that he bought a RAV4. And therein lies the problem: you can lead a horse to water, but if the water's frozen? 

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