General Motors Co will have its new subcompact Chevrolet Sonic bungee jump and skydive in an advertising campaign launching on Oct. 15 in an effort to reorient the brand to appeal to younger U.S. buyers.
The Sonic, which goes on sale in the fall, is seen as an important car in the face of high gasoline prices and as GM tries to move away from its reliance on gas-guzzling big SUVs and pickup trucks.
"This vehicle really needs to keep the momentum going as far as GM's small-car offerings," IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland said. "They have to show Wall Street that they can make money on more than just large trucks."
Sales in the U.S. subcompact segment are expected to more than double by 2016 to 925,000 cars annually from an expected 411,000 this year, according to IHS.
IHS estimated Sonic sales will reach 80,000 annually, and the Ford Motor Co Fiesta to hit 115,000, IHS said. Ford is credited with leading the way among U.S. automakers in marketing its models using social media.
"The segment is very busy right now with a lot of new entries," said Cristi Landy, director of Chevy marketing. The segment also includes the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and Toyota Yaris.
Anything that creates buzz for GM with younger buyers will help the company broaden its brand image, and turning a profit on vehicles it failed to make money on in the past would be welcome too, Lindland said.
"You do have a lot of new product in this class that doesn't scream cheap car like it used to," Edmunds.com analyst Bill Visnic said. "It should be a good battle."
GM began regular production of the Sonic -- with a starting price of $14,495 -- at a Detroit area plant in early August and will reach full production next year.
The start of production is a key accomplishment for GM and the United Auto Workers union, which agreed to lower worker pay to allow GM to make a profit on the low-cost subcompact.
The Sonic, with fuel efficiency of 40 miles per gallon, replaces the Chevrolet Aveo in North America, while in other markets it retains the Aveo name.
The new car is part of GM's effort to connect with buyers ages 18 to 34 who may not have the negative view of GM that older consumers might, said Kevin Mayer, director of Chevy advertising. That younger group, numbering 80 million, is called the "millenials."
"This group doesn't have the history necessarily or even the baggage you might say that a lot of the more traditional consumers might have," he said, referring to the automaker's struggles and 2009 bankruptcy.
Because the "millenial" generation spends so much time with cell phones and online, the ad campaign -- dubbed "Let's Do This" -- will be skewed toward a digital component, including exclusively the first three months, Mayer said.
GM will have the Sonic bungee jump from a 10-story structure in Long Beach, California, based on the number of visitors who click on a button at the campaign's www.letsdothis.com website, he said.
Consumers also will be able to view video clips of the Sonic sky diving in Arizona, filmed using 27 cameras both inside and outside the car, and play an online, social game that will give away 10 Sonic cars, Mayer said.
Starting early next year, more traditional TV ads will air, he said, declining to reveal the campaign's budget.
GM's Chevy brand spent more than $519 million on U.S. advertising through the first six months of this year, slightly below last year's pace when it spent $1.14 billion for the entire year, according to Kantar Media.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Gary Hill)