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The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming! Chevy goes "Mini" with a "Spark"


As I wrote in my Camaro Synergy Green Special Edition article, the Americans are trying to put their best feet forward at this year's North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, though it's no secret that saddled by the stigma from a rough decade or two, the American wow factor isn't always as high as with Japanese or European product.

Everybody borrows, but some US car makers have hit the snooze button on innovation. Even classics like Mustang and Corvette (a market some foreign makers had hoped to enter) are at times still called pieces of s*#t due to apathy about basic features like cheap control panels. For those who want to add other negatives--it's my keyboard, so lump it, but the bottom line is: US cars haven't inspired foreign automakers to rip them off for decades.

That said, there are efforts that show a shift in perspective from some of the US carmakers, and while it is slow, it may point to a larger movement. Also, we are getting better at our homages, some of which US automakers are being upfront about--at least with some of their cars. (In my next article, you will hear about one maker that is a little sneakier, but it turns out to be OK.)

Like with its new Lilliputian lineup, about which Chevy used the word mini-car in its January newsflash headline, the carmaker seems to be saying, "Ok, you have a Mini? We're going to Americanize it, and broaden its market far beyond hip girls with the "Sex and the City" soundtrack in their IPod hookups. Ha!"  So with that, let's take a look at Chevrolet's smallest member of that lineup: the Spark.

With car names, sometimes you think, "What the hell?" but the Spark - which is leaving its Daewoo-ian roots and now, from some angles, calling to mind a MINI Cooper or MINI Clubman, and from others, a Scion or Yaris - seems right on. Actually, the whole thing is super smart. On the MINI website, the Clubman is described as having a "bulldog stance" and "Spartan charm," which would make hip "Sex and the City" fans feel like insiders. The 5-door Spark, on the other hand, is not for insiders, and its simple, populist, "I yam what I yam," marketing let's you know it, like when Margaret Brooks, Chevy's marketing head for small cars said, “This small vehicle makes a big statement. With its fresh, youthful approach, we believe Spark will appeal to customers who want excellent fuel economy, functionality and style at an affordable price."

No bulldogs or Scottish references anywhere to be found, and by using the word youthful, I don't think Brooks just means it's for kids driving several hours away for college at a good state school. It's a euphemism that calls to mind a newly single Mom celebrating her first self-supporting purchase, or workers who hold down several jobs needing to get from A to B, but because of its zippiness, if they're driving home at 4AM after a double, they can at least have some fun.

And even with design references to folks who eat blood pudding and raw fish, the car's styling is somehow still American. Sadly, the company is being a little tight-lipped on specs, except to say it's aimed at younger folks, will be roomy, but small enough to have agile-handling, while still providing enough sturdiness to prevent it from being carried away by the Lilliputians in Gulliver's Travels.


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