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What's cool to kids? Hyundai wants to know

Looking to spot future trends, the carmaker turns to some of the harshest critics around: teenage girls.

March 31, 2004|Jim Mateja | Chicago Tribune

The group was aptly named the HIT squad.

Eight local teenage girls were enlisted by Hyundai to tour the recent Chicago Auto Show as the Hyundai Investigative Team and provide candid opinions about the vehicles. That they did.

"It's the ugliest car I've ever seen," winced Karen Garcia, 16, a sophomore.

"If this is what they think teens want, they missed the mark. I don't know any teenagers who would want a box that looks like a minivan," chimed in Allison Boyer, 16, also a sophomore. She did add, "at least it got the audio system right. It had a CD player, and that's important to us [teens]."

The vehicle tabbed as "not cool? The Scion xB, which along with the Scion xA was designed by Toyota to capture the hearts and pocketbooks of this nation's youth with affordable, though odd-looking, vehicles.

The xA, a small car, and the xB, a small box that looks like a minivan, are on sale on the West Coast and will soon be available in other markets across the country.

By getting the opinions of teenage girls now, Hyundai said it has time to ensure that its designers and engineers don't develop something -- like a Scion -- the girls won't like or purchase once they reach their adult buying years.

This was the second year Hyundai enlisted a HIT squad to report on the vehicles, and the company is evaluating the responses. Last year it was twentysomething men and women doing the talking.

From these two members of this year's HIT squad, we were able to learn the group's reactions. Hummer was a clear winner.

"The entire group liked it. It appeals to the young because it's unique, huge and stands out in the crowd," Boyer said.

"To most teens, it's all about how a vehicle looks and we don't like boxy, but Hummer is the exception. It looks so cool. If money was no object, I'd buy a Hummer H1," Garcia said. The H1 sells for around $100,000.

Another group favorite was the Volkswagen Beetle convertible.

"It's not very realistic or useful, but it's cute and teens look for cute over practical," Boyer said.

Garcia agreed.

"It's a 'girlie' car, and I don't know of any guys that like them, but it's really cool."

And SUVs, a current rage?

"Teens like them because you can hold more people than in a minivan without looking like you're in a minivan," Boyer said.

But, "everyone's coming out with SUVs now, and they're all starting to look the same. Who wants a Mercedes SUV to look like a Ford?" Garcia noted.

Minivans? "Not at this point of my life," Boyer said.

"I'd never own one," added Garcia, though admitting when her dad's Chevy Prizm isn't available, she'll borrow her mom's minivan.

Also not cool was the Kia Mojave concept truck, "a pickup for women who don't need to pick anything up," Garcia noted.

Other observations:

* Teens aren't interested in whether it's import or domestic. "Not all of us know the difference," Boyer said.

* The environment is a concern and hybrid vehicles are considered wise, but air bags "aren't a major teenage concern," Garcia said.

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