Chevrolet using the North American International Auto Show as a platform to debut its new sub-compact, the Sonic.  Later this year, the made-in-America Sonic will replace the made-in-South Korea Chevrolet Aveo.

“This is not the Aveo,” said chief engineer Jim Federico. “We hope when we’re done, we can come up with a new perception of what a small car can be in America.”

12 sonic sedan 015 Chevy Sonic Subcompact Aims At Younger BuyersGeneral Motors is renovating its Orion Township plant to build the sub-compact Aveo and the compact Buick Verano, which is also making its public debut at this year’s auto show.

A creative agreement with the United Auto Workers union allows General Motors to staff that plant primarily with entry level workers, making a much lower wage.  That, the company says, is the only way it can make a sub-compact vehicle profitably in the United States.

A press release from General Motors highlighting some of the Sonic’s features:

  • Available efficient Ecotec 1.4L turbo engine rated at an estimated 138 horsepower (103 kW) – 18 horsepower (14 kW) more than Ford Fiesta – that delivers competitive fuel economy. It’s the same engine used in the Chevrolet Cruze in a smaller, lighter package for a greater feeling of performance
  • Standard Ecotec 1.8L engine paired with five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions
  • Ecotec 1.4L turbo available with a six-speed manual transmission
  • Ride and handling tuned by Chevy Corvette engineers; standard electronic power steering and StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover sensing
  • Sedan model offers segment-best trunk capacity that is greater than most compact cars; hatchback and sedan offer better rear-seat roominess than Ford Fiesta. With a rear seat that folds nearly flat, the Sonic hatchback has greater cargo capacity than Fiesta
  • Connectivity includes OnStar with six months of Turn-by-Turn navigation. Available features include XM Satellite Radio, USB and Bluetooth functionality and MyChevrolet mobile application with OnStar MyLink vehicle connectivity
  • Remote start, heated front seats and sunroof, all rarities in the segment
  • Comprehensive safety features include 10 standard air bags, antilock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and OnStar with Automatic Crash Response.

Sales of crossovers and pickup trucks rose significantly in 2010, and the small car share of the market fell.  That’s prompted some analyst to raise concerns that we may soon see a glut of small cars on the market.

GM executives, however, says the strong debut of competitors like the Ford Fiesta, show that if you have a quality small car, people will buy it.

“What you’ve got, really, is a number of great choices,” says Chevrolet small car marketing director Margaret Brooks.  “Small cars, that are real cars, that real people, we think, are going to want to own.   We actually think that’s going to bring some new customers to that market.”

Brooks says that could include people who have previously only been able to afford used cars.

Gasoline prices have now topped three dollars a gallon.  Brooks says that has yet to impact small car sales.  But, the long term direction, she says, is clear.

“Certainly the shock that our customers got in 2008 when fuel prices rose higher than that, kinda reminded everybody that, y’know,  two dollar a gallon gas isn’t something that you can count on forever.”

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