Head of the Class

Here’s the thing,

Car models run on a cycle of an average of 5 or 6 years before models are upgraded to a new generation. Over that time they will usually get a facelift, and longer life cycles will get a second in there somewhere as well. These facelifts consist of a nip and tuck, with upgraded lighting and new grills to convince buyers to take a second look. But what happens when a model get stuck at the end of its segment’s product cycle?

The Chevrolet Cruze has been lagging behind its segment since its introduction to the United States in 2010. At the time it was a welcome change from the Chevy Cobalt that it replaced, but still was not capable enough to capture the sizable foothold it needed. Imagine then, how poorly the Dodge Dart did being introduced 3 years later using almost the same exact formula. Now THAT was the definition of running behind.

So when Chevy announced earlier this week that the new Cruze Eco would be capable of 42 miles per gallon, it was met with a resounding “meh”. The truth of the matter is that Toyota has been doing that for years now with their Corolla in LE Eco trim, and both Mazda and Honda have been just 1 mpg off of that number since 2012 with┬áthe introduction of their Skyactiv and HF trims, respectively. It’s hard to not say that the Cruze is late to the party. But in a world where getting the most out of your fuel is as much about platform and drivetrain technology as it is about engine advancements, models have to wait for a new generation and substantial updates or changes to join the pack of already updated models.

So what is a manufacturer to do if it wants to take its model from an also-ran to class Valedictorian? Well, they have to be different. Take for example the 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit. At a time when everyone was trying to eke their way higher and higher into the 30mpg range, the Rabbit brought unheard of refinements to the class like 4-wheel disc brakes and a smooth and torquey inline-5 cylinder engine. For lack of a better description, it was a big car is a small car’s body. That model put the Golf/Rabbit line back on the map for mainstream consumer for the first time in years.

Although it’s too late for Chevy to change anything substantial about the Cruze, the current model only has to hold its head above water for 4 or 5 years before it gets another chance at reinvention. Here’s hoping that every benchmark stays ahead of its pack, and every car behind the 8-ball finds its own way. Only with that kind of thinking will the industry continue to prosper and grow.

And that, that’s the thing.

-Shawn

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