The Speculator: Chevrolet's Next Small Coupe

Chevrolet Code 130R (above) and Tru 140S (below) Concepts. All photos (c)2012 General Motors

To be up front here, I'm not a fan of concept vehicles.

I understand why they were created. Either a company wants to play around with a design language that will eventually appear on production models, or to tease us with a production vehicle in disguise. Still, I rather have a sense of reality when I see a "concept" than some Gene Roddenberry/George Lucas-inspired look into the future.

While watching the insanity that is the North American International Auto Show, it dawned on me that there were some concepts that would need further examination. They had some form of value tied into the potential for production of these fantasies in metal, rubber, plastic and upholstery.

Amid the hoopla of the Cadillac ATS, Buick Encore and Chevrolet Sonic RS, General Motors trotted out two concepts for the bowtie badge. The idea was to create vehicles for the upcoming generation of drivers to enjoy. What made the Code 130R and Tru 140S quite interesting were the simple fact that both concepts were two-door coupes.

Coupes? For Millennials? I must be getting old…

It makes sense, really. A recent conversation with some other journalists and enthusiasts regarding whether the Chevrolet Cruze should spawn either the hatchback for the North American market or a coupe drew a mixed bag of responses. It feeds into the talk of a potentially growing market for coupes geared towards the Millennial generation. Perhaps, this is all justified somehow.

Frankly, I was not convinced. Yet, I figured I try to speculate as if GM was going to build either one or the other to compliment the Cruze in expanding a market already started by the Hyundai Veloster. A market I once enjoyed through the lens of my 1991 Acura Integra two decades ago.

CODE AND/OR TRU – WHAT ARE THEY? Though GM's materials did not state which platform the Code is derived from, they did peg the Tru coming from the Delta architecture – the one that underpins the Cruze, Volt, Buick Verano and Opel/Vauxhall Astra. Therefore, the Tru is a front-drive compact hatchback coupe – closer to what some of us journos and enthusiasts were talking about.

Would it be far fetched to say that the Code is also derived off the Delta platform? If so, it would justify the existence of the 1.4litre turbocharged ECOTEC underneath both concepts. Both concepts tout an uptick in power for the small booster current lurking under the hood of the Cruze, Sonic and the upcoming Buick Encore. With designs such as the Code and Tru, 150HP is a pretty good number to start with. It is a given that consumers would choose between a manual and an automatic with the turbocharged 1.4litre mill.

GM also claims that these two coupes offer an environment reminiscent of a sedan. This claim would mean two things: A good amount of interior space and they would be completely related – if not integrated – into the Cruze lineup. A closer look at the concepts would help comprehend the impetus behind this claim.

THE PAST AND THE FUTURE: So, what do these two two-door Chevrolet concepts remind you of? Millennials need not be reminded of a couple of vehicles from my generation (or, rather, the late Baby Boomers): The Chevrolet Vega and Monza. Billed as GM's entry into the gas miser category, the 1971 Vega had the Toyota Corolla and Datsun 510 in mind when it came out with four body styles – including a panel van. It was a charming idea – until the engine melted or self-destructed. Building off the Vega was the 1975 Monza – a sporty version of the Vega. The latter were intended to ease the pain of the Vega. They did – sort of.

However, Gen-Xers would point out to the first front-drive J-cars as reminders of the Code and Tru. Both the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac (J)2000 were offered in both hatchbacks and two-door sedans. Unlike the Vega and the Monza, the J-Car was front-wheel-drive – closer to at least the Tru.

When I look at the Code and Tru, I do see what some of my colleagues were on about. Not just reminders of GM’s past efforts to capture the youth market (The Vega/Monza and the early J-Cars), but of the notion for a coupe accompanying the strong selling Cruze. GM designed these two to use familiar cues of other Chevrolet products, but create a distinctive profile.

There is one little detail to discuss: the Crossed-Flags badge on the side of the Code. Going back to the 1950s, the Crossed-Flags were applied to Chevrolets that embodied performance and sportiness. They first appeared on the 1953 Corvette and had been on various other Chevys – including the Corvair Monza. Normally, one would identify the Crossed-Flags with strictly the Corvette. Seeing it on the Code – knowing it has turbocharged 1.4 under the hood – threw some alarms wondering if Chevrolet was planning on linking this notchback coupe with the oft-discussed C7 (Seventh Generation Corvette). Frankly, I wouldn’t even consider linking the two – siding with heritage than rumor.

BUT, WHICH ONE? Both the Code and Tru make compelling cases for production. If the requirement is to have Chevrolet offer a compact coupe to compete against the Hyundai Veloster, Kia Forte Koup, Honda CR-Z and, though it is a stretch, the Scion tC, then either one would do the trick.

The Code seems more production ready, design-wise. It has a Camaro-esque stance that is scaled down for the segment, without the drawbacks of the Camaro's roof. To me, it has the stance of BMW's 1-Series coupe. This may be intriguing in markets where the 1 M is revered in the same light as the M3 and so forth. The Chevrolet may not offer the drama of a 1-Series, but it would be a youthful option for those who enjoy the pleasures of a notchback coupe.

The Tru is aligned more with the CR-Z and the tC. The Tru is a hatchback with a swooping fastback line – more the norm in today's coupe market. Certainly, the lines will be tamed if it goes into production, but one would hope that the muscular bulges are retained on some level. The one thing the Honda and Scion would like you to think that they offer an air of absolute masculinity from their coupes. Being masculine in design and performance helps in future plans – SCCA club and series racing, for example.

There are some advantages each one enjoys over the other. Rear headroom seems to be better in the notchback Code then the fastback Tru. The Tru may offer more cargo space with some flexibility over the Code. Yet, without going further into breaking down each one – they both appear to be the same idea with two different interpretations.

SELLING TO THE MILLENNIALS: Toyota touted its Scion brand as one geared for younger drivers. In reality, Scion attracted all ages and cultures to its youthful products. Honda experienced the same result when they introduced the Element crossover. If you attempt to market to a certain demographic, that product will most likely attract other groups who just may like the car.

Was this something Chevrolet had in mind when they made the statement about inviting Millennials to "co-create" the Code and Tru? What will prevent a Gen-Xer or Gen-Yer from buying a production version of the Code or Tru simply because they could not afford a BMW 1 M or embodies a preference towards domestic automobiles?

There’s no question that these small coupes will sell. As to how many of these will be in the hands of Millennial consumers remain to be seen, but I expect they will make up a significant number of sales for either the Code or Tru.

And, when they build it – either one or both – it’s going to bring some more fun back to the bowtie. That we can all expect from these concepts.

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