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The Globe and Mail

Young drivers want a smartphone on wheels

The 2014 Chevrolet Spark, Chevrolet’s first mini-car for the U.S. and Canadian markets, is a practical choice for urbanites. It is pictured here in “grape ice.”

General Motors

Millennials – those ages 18-34 – are prized by car companies, but they're not an easy sell. They are quickly bored and they are prone to moving en masse from one new smartphone to another.

Except, of course, the cheapest entry-level car is exponentially more expensive than a discounted smartphone. When it comes to car companies, they face the challenge of making a compelling case for ownership in the face of less expensive distractions – phones included.

Car companies produce expensive but durable goods with an emotional and practical appeal. So what can a car company do to spark interest in young buyers? As The Detroit News notes, millennials are interested in "a car to do things with." Useful, functional transportation at an affordable price often trumps what baby boomers would call sexy performance.

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Enter – you guessed it – the Chevrolet Spark. General Motors says 29 per cent of buyers are younger than 35 with more than half coming from non-General Motors' brands. Price and functionality are the big selling points. The Spark is a four-passenger, five-door miniaturized hatchback. Chevy say it has the headroom of any mainstream car, lots of rear headroom, generous legroom, cargo room and a big hatch at the rear – big enough to hold IKEA furniture.

GM Canada launched the Spark with an app called "Bringgo" that delivers affordable, smartphone-enabled, turn-by-turn navigation. It also has the connectivity of a MyLink colour touch screen and the Bluetooth-enabled goodies that can be run through it.

The Spark is an early example of a smartphone on wheels. And if you believe a recent survey by Deloitte and Michigan State University's Broad College of Business, most 19- to 31-year-olds from Boston to Beijing to Berlin want exactly that: "a smartphone on wheels."

GM has been playing with ideas for millennials for a while now. In 2012, GM showed two concepts designed to capture what the company thinks young buyers want in a new car. Dubbed the Tru 140S and the Code 130R, these concepts were inspired by the looks of muscle cars and Italian sportsters. Yet both seat four, are fuel efficient, feature technology interfaces designed to interact with smartphones and, if sold today, would list for $20,000 or less.

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