Detroit — Fuel economy isn't sexy. But luckily for General Motors Co., the same processes that reduce vehicle weight to add more miles to the gallon also improve performance and draw in buyers who are looking for something different.
At least that's the hope for the Detroit-based automaker as it brings a sporty hatchback version of its Chevrolet Cruze to the market for 2017.
“We cut 250 pounds out of the sedan, which we introduced last year, and you can really feel that difference in the performance too,” said Chris Biggs, executive director of Cruze product marketing, following an unveiling of the 2017 Cruze hatchback at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Jan. 11.
Those weight savings came from a variety of improvements, from new materials to part consolidation.
“There was not any one silver bullet,” Biggs said, “but all of that carries over into performance.”
For GM, the Cruze hatchback is an important new entry in the North American market. The so-called “hot hatchback” car offerings have been dominated by European and Asian automakers, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting with analyst group LMC Automotive.
And that's important because the U.S. auto industry needs to interest consumers in smaller vehicles that will help their corporate average fuel economy standards as those numbers move toward a U.S. mandated goal of 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025.
Right now, with gas prices under $2 a gallon, American consumers are far more interested in buying crossovers, sport utility vehicles and trucks.
But while sales for compacts and sedans have fallen, Biggs noted that the market for the hatchback is a bright spot in small cars, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the compact market now.
A “hot hatchback” gives a whole new reason to buy small, though, Schuster said, and it also draws younger customers who may stick with the brand during future purchases.
“Now you've got a hatchback and that gives you another spear at your disposal,” he said. “So you've potentially got a way to draw a younger buyer in general, you've got another benefit in CAFE standards, you've got a new vehicle without needing to invest in an all new architecture.”