As the once-powerful baby boomer generation begins retiring, their children are quickly taking their place in the workforce and doing the same thing their parents did - climbing the corporate ladder, in some form or another. There's a new world order on the horizon, a paradigm shift, of sorts, that is being led by a younger generation, those who have grown up in a digital and media-friendly world; those who have a hard time remembering life before Facebook; those who now have a disposable income. People are noticing, not the least of which are car companies.
Many car makers are already targeting a youthful, more tech-orientated crowd, plainly visible this week on the floors of the Cobo Center at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit: Mini has its Mini Connected system that allows users to link their smartphones and download music and get Twitter feeds from the internet. Hyundai's Veloster is a sharp, three-door, sports car with a relatively low price and youthful appeal. In fact, the stands here are full of small, inexpensive yet stylish and tech-laden compact cars aimed at entry-level buyers, from Kia to Toyota to Nissan. But some car makers are looking at this market with a bit more focus. They see a potential that is too large to ignore and too lucrative to get wrong. So instead of designing a car and foisting it on the public in desperate hope it will catch on, some are now first asking the question "what is it that you really want?"
Chevrolet has been asking a lot of questions, and it's no wonder; its research shows there are more than 80 million people in the US alone that fall into the "Millennium" range, those people between 11 and 30 years old - current and near-future buyers. That's 40 per cent of the US car market today, and it's estimated that this age group contributes more than US$1 trillion towards the economy. The numbers here in the Middle East show an even larger age bias. According to John Stadwick, head of GM Middle East, more than 60 per cent of the population here is under the age of 30. Currently, Chevrolet has three cars that are already gaining popularity with a younger crowd: the Spark, the Sonic and the Cruze saloon.
But in an effort to gain more insight into the needs and wants of this group for future products, GM interviewed and liaised with more than 9,000 Millenniums last year, both face-to-face and using that forum so intrinsically linked with the younger generation: social media. And the result of this legwork appeared for the first time on the Chevrolet stand at the motor show: the Tru 140S and the Code 130R concepts.
The Tru 140S is based on a front-drive platform from the Cruze, while the Code 130R is a rear-drive car based on the Cadillac ATS platform. Both are two-door, four-passenger designs, a layout that proved popular with the target market. Both are also intended to have a 1.4L turbocharged engine to help keep costs down to around the US$20,000 (Dh73,500) range, another important stipulation gleaned from GM's dialogue.
"We came from research knowing the kind of styles of cars that young people wanted," says Nick David, the lead designer on the Tru 140S. "They liked having a sporty, two-door car but it was also important that they could bring their friends along with them."
The interiors and features also reflect the tastes and interests of Millenniums, too, with a level of technology that research showed was highly important to them. The cars are loaded - conceptually, at this stage - with a system called MyLink that will allow users to connect their smartphones and access the internet; basically, to stay in touch with their friends and keep up with a virtual world.
"We're trying to cram the cars with technology, but not with what people don't want," says David. "Too much technology can be overwhelming, and so we wanted to find out what was important."