Spark Gets Miles With Millennials

Enlarged touchscreens make entertainment a key driver for sales of the compact car

The Spark may be one of the smallest vehicles on the road, but Chevrolet has found that a large screen inside is making the car a very big seller.

A seven-inch smartphone-friendly touchscreen built into the dash has become a key attraction for younger buyers, especially first-time car owners, who were turned off by Chevy’s bland lineup of cars and trucks in the past.

The digital display, designed to resemble that of an Apple iPhone or Google Android-powered device, has helped the Spark stand out from larger models from rivals like Honda, Toyota, Kia and Mini.

The Spark’s screen is massive when compared with those inside most cars, let alone the mini segment that includes Fiat’s 500, Scion’s iQ and Smart Fourtwo.

Meant to serve as a media hub when paired with a user’s cell phone, Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system can access a handset’s contact lists and stored music, read and compose text messages, offer directions and power apps like Pandora, Stitcher and TuneIn radio. It also can play video and photo slide shows when the car is in park.

Within its first year in the U.S., Chevy has sold more than 26,869 Sparks, beating its original internal estimates by 35%. The car broke sales records in August when it moved 2,630 off dealership lots, again besting internal projections of 1,900, according to auto industry researcher Ward’s Auto.

“It’s doubled our expectations,” said General Motors president Mark Reuss during a recent trip to Los Angeles.

Companies like GM, Toyota and Ford have long found that infotainment systems rank high among millennials when considering which cars to buy. And GM has been targeting that segment hard with marketing messages on social-media platforms including Twitter and a campaign on MTV.

The Spark boasts a small pricetag (starting at around $13,000), impressive fuel economy (around 34 MPG) and unique colors like techno pink and jalapeno green (see above).

Chevy eventually intends to add more apps after opening up its software to outsiders the way it began integrating Apple’s Siri voice-controlled feature into the Spark and the larger Sonic in March, becoming the first automaker to do so.

That’s helped lure the kind of buyer that GM has long struggled to attract. In fact, the Spark’s screen has been such a draw among the under-35 set that it’s even surprised General Motors, which owns Chevy, along with the Buick, Cadillac and GMC badges.

But turning its image around was what Chevy was striving for when bringing the city-friendly South Korean-made car to the U.S. last year.

“We needed a way to get younger buyers to look at Chevy differently,” Reuss said. “The Spark is helping get them into Chevy dealerships.”

The added interactivity has worked so well that the company will integrate its popular touchscreen into its larger models like the Impala sedan, Silverado pickup, Tahoe SUV and C7 Corvette.

The success of the Spark also signals just how important entertainment is to millennials, and how accessing it has become a major infl uence in how products, from electronics to modes of transportation, are now designed.

In all cases, screens are getting larger — a response to the proliferation of mobile devices and the obsession with YouTube and social networks. Samsung recently unveiled its Galaxy Gear smartwatch as the latest entrant into growing the wearable tech category, with an interactive screen on the wrist that easily connects to a smartphone.

Yet as GM installs more smartphone-friendly touchscreens in its other vehicles, the company admits it needs to be careful of expanding the design too far.

“Not everyone has a smartphone,” Reuss notes. “There’s a large percentage of people who still don’t have one.”

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