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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Presenting...the Chevrolet Cobalt

The Cobalt is GM's attempt to win in the marketplace of the Sentra, Civic, Corolla, 3, Aerio, ok, I think you can see that this is a crowded marketplace. This is a replacement for the Cavalier, and it is none too soon. Though pictures and statistics are being released now, the Cobalt will not see light for another YEAR. In the competitive small car market, this is a poor strategy. I'm wondering aloud whether or not Honda, or Toyota, the kings of this market have such a long lead in time before they release a new Corolla or Civic, and I highly doubt it.

But let's look at the car itself. The interior is a huge step forward from the rental Cavalier. I would argue that it is on par with the Civic's interior, but not the upcoming Mazda's 3's in terms of sportiness. There's also a faux wood version, to compete a bit with the Corolla's faux wood attempt. I'm a hater of faux wood, and how garish it looks, especially in small cars, which I see as invoking the old Cadillac Cimarron. Externally, the car is Civic like, and quite bland. Engine statistics aren't out, and neither is price, but the Detroit Free Press is predicting that it will be sold without rebates. People buy small cars not because they like them, but rather because it's all they can afford. Since Chevy is coming off the Cavalier, the buyers of this car are going to expect a very cheap and affordable small car. The Cobalt will be a shock in that regard, unless the car is an incredible ride. The jury is still out on that one.

I myself own an '01 Sentra. I bought it not because I wanted a small car, but because my parents wanted to give me a new car for school, and it seemed to be the best of that class. Obviously if I had the money I would have gone for something absurd like a Vette, or a Porsche. The Cobalt looks a great deal less "girly" than the the Cavalier, and a lot less cheaply constructed. If the Focus can do well for Ford in the small car environment, I don't see the Cobalt having much trouble either, but I would recommend for GM to keep the Cavalier around for fleet sales, so that people see a difference between it, and its predecessor. This would be similar to the move Ford made with keeping the Escort around for a few years for fleet sales. On the other hand, I feel the Cobalt won't have nearly the same success of the Focus, because the Focus's design was a sharp break from the Escort, and had a "European" feel to it. And a great ad campaign wouldn't hurt either.

To sum up, is the Cobalt a winner? Aesthetically it's not a failure, but not a blockbuster success either. The SS version isn't amazing either. We'll have to wait until people drive the dang thing to make the final judgement. The hardest people to please will be the rice-rocket crowd, who will take highly into consideration the car's ability to be modified, and how well it handles. If it passes the test with them, the hardest test of all, GM will truly have a winner. Aethestics aren't that important with that group, they'll just modify the car to their liking anyway. Winning with that crowd seems to be mostly luck anyway, just make a great, cheap, small car...

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