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January 16, 2010

If there is a car currently on the market that exemplifies the miserable failure of domestic manufacturers in the small car segment, it is the Chevrolet Aveo. There have been plenty of terrible small cars over the years, and the domestics have steadily improved from that starting point, becoming first "disappointing" and then finally, "mediocre" with the current Aveo.

Now General Motors says it will take the small car segment seriously, providing the Aveo RS show car as evidence that the new small car will mark a big change from the current model. To begin with, GM will build the new Aveo domestically in Orion Township, Michigan rather than importing it from South Korea as it has done until now.

Underscoring the company's plan to move Aveo up market, the show car for Detroit depicts the Aveo in sporty RS trim. This not only shows off the next version of the car in its most flattering form, its very existence indicates improvement because the notion of the current Aveo in sporty trim is a dissonant thought for anyone familiar with the car.

The show car strikes an impressively aggressive stance, with the wheels pushed to the corners, muscular sculpting of the wheel arches and a menacingly furrowed brow above pairs of headlights that cast a penetrating glare. This styling, along with the 138-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter engine with six-speed transmission put the Aveo squarely into "hot hatch" territory with the likes of the Volkwagen Golf and Mazda3, competitors that would have kicked sand in the face of any prior Aveo.

Considering this radical change it would make sense, from a marketing perspective, to punt the weakling Aveo name for something with less negative baggage. But consumers in other countries evidently warmed to Aveo more than Americans did.  Because Chevrolet now aims to be a brand with global relevance and a unified worldwide product line, the company decided to keep the Aveo moniker, reported GM vice chairman Bob Lutz.

Another factor weighing against changing to another name that might be preferable to American consumers is the need to be able to trademark that name in all the countries where the car is sold, if it is to wear the same label globally, Lutz pointed out.

Production of the new car is scheduled for late in the year.


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About the Author
Dan Carney is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications.  He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award.  Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, D.C.

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