Friday, September 23, 2005

Chevy HHR: Strange New Retro Entry

Jay Leno's Thursday night program was sponsored by an unusual new automobile?, or maybe light truck? entry, the Chevrolet HHR. Strange comedy oriented ads featuring unusual comic actor Andy Dick, seemed to purposely avoid mention of any of the features of the new automobile. No mention of the cars specifications, engine or horsepower was mentioned, other than the attractive base model price and a few glimses of the vehicle. The form does have some function though, at first glance.

This HHR vehicle is based on the 1949 Chevrolet Suburban styling, and the HHR stands for "Heritage High Rise". It looks something like the PT Cruiser built by Chrysler, but is slightly larger, costs slightly more, has slightly less horsepower and has far less clean styling than the PT Cruiser, which is a far more simple and direct retro late 40's design. The HHR does come across as sort of gaudy and overdone in the styling department. Yet with the large cargo compacity, this design based on Chevrolet Cobalt small car line may be able to find a market with some young buyers, or those who have band equipment to move for gigs, or other utility purposes.

At 143 horsepower, with the standard 2.2L four cylinder, the HHR has a little less muscle than the 150 horsepower in the 2.4L four in the PT Cruiser. Both offer optional engines with a little more horsepower, but neither is a drag strip contender. Both are marketed for their unusual design which allows for a higher roofline for more cargo carrying utility. And both offer a very reasonable 22MPG city, and 30 Highway MPG.

And thankfully, the HHR features standard antirust rust through protection. For those living in states like Ohio, where salted roads once used to eat away with rust new Vegas, Chevettes, Monzas and other low priced Chevrolets and other economy brand cars at one time, antirust through at least promises the vehicle will last long enough to make the last payment on the vehicle while it is still in one piece on the road. Buyers expect this better quality in even the small and low priced cars now than they did years ago, where almost any cost cutting to reduce production costs was once tolerated by a forgiving auto buying public. But the excellent construction or reasonable priced automobiles like Toyota and Honda raised the quality control ante for all brands.

The HHR should find a market. And the $15,990 base price isn't too bad. Although at $14,270 the slightly smaller PT Cruiser is still a bit cheaper. And with some current incentives at Chrysler, some PT Cruisers are as low as $12,713 for the next few days in September until these sales promotions expire.

Unlike a real SUV, the HHR will not be offered in four wheel drive or other sturdy SUV drivetrain arrangements at least for now. It is simply an upright roof based vehicle that looks sort of like a SUV with the Chevy Cobalt small car design as the vehicle's real basis, and not the sturdy truck design that one will find in real Chevrolet SUVs such as the Suburban line.

GM has had some worry over lagging sales until the recent sales incentives upticked sales for America's largest vehicle maker recently. But some will like the HHR, although the styling does look overdone to me. This new vehicle is worth a look and a test drive at your local Chevrolet dealer if you're in the market for a vehicle similar to the PT Cruiser, with a little more size that offers some utility in a small 176.2 inch long vehicle with a 103.5 inch wheelbase.

Compared to the other retro styled SSR, that has a very high price, and high performance to boot, the HHR looks sort of cool in a retro way, and may become a favorite of some. It is affordable and reasonable and practical enough despite the unusual and overdone styling that Chevrolet may be able to sell 50,000 or more of these HHRs in the next year. If it clicks with the public, a Ford version or import version may come down the turnpike eventually. Whether Chevrolet can find a popular product in a niche market that Chrysler created with the PT Cruiser will be an interesting test. But with many good looking car models from Toyota, Honda and other makers, most car buyers will no doubt opt for attractive cars that look like cars. A small car that looks like a light truck is still the market exception, and not the market rule.


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