One of the most difficult categories for Chevrolet — in the sea of difficult categories the company must navigate — is the compact car segment. Without question, of all the domestic manufacturers, and particularly among those of General Motors, Chevrolet consistently has the toughest markets to crack.
Playing in the mainstream of the mainstream, Chevrolet’s chief competitors, for nearly every car in its lineup, are Honda and Toyota. Somewhere along the line, the car buying public decided those two manufacturers could do no wrong (until recently in the case of Toyota). Consequently, practically whatever manner of car that came forth with their badges affixed to their noses and rumps immediately becomes sales successes.
Just as Camry and Accord are perennially the best-selling mid-size cars in America — routinely leaving Malibu in the dust — Civic and Corolla rule the compact segment, leaving Chevrolet to try formulation after formulation to find a way to compete. The scattered carcasses of the vanquished include Citation, Cavalier, Prizm, and most recently, Cobalt.
All were introduced with promises of a superior competitive set, and ultimately all were conscribed to the pantheon of the discarded. In fact, their ultimate failures to dethrone Civic and Corolla have been so miserable; their very names were considered liabilities and deemed unfit to be worn by their succeeding models.
As the most recent entry, and the subject of this overview, the Chevrolet Cobalt, upon its introduction, was Chevrolet’s most capable offering for the compact category ever. (OK, aside from Prizm, which was a rebadged Toyota Corolla). Still though, largely because of imperfections baked in during the planning and specification stages of the car, the Cobalt still wasn’t competitive enough to overcome the Toyota and the Honda.
Because of so many mis-steps over the years in this category, there’s something of a stigma attached to compact cars wearing Chevrolet’s bowtie badge. So strong in fact has been this prejudice, that even when Chevrolet offered a rebadged version of the Toyota Corolla, one of the market’s quintessential compact cars, (marketed as the Chevy Prizm from 1998 to 2003), the Toyota-badged car easily outsold the Chevrolet-badged car — even though the two were virtually identical!
Clearly, it’s about more than just the product itself.
That said, if you were looking for a reliable used car at a very reasonable cost, Chevy’s compact car stigma would actually work in your favor here. You see, despite the market’s perception of the car, the Chevrolet Cobalt was actually a decent little ride and rather nicely equipped too. Cobalt survived through but one generation before being supplanted by the 2010 Chevrolet Cruze, General Motors’ current great light hope.