Automakers are realizing that if they do not adjust to changing youth tastes, they "risk becoming the dad at the middle school dance," said Anne Hubert, a senior vice president at Scratch who leads its consulting practice and works closely with G.M.
Last summer, Mr. Martin and his team temporarily transformed part of the G.M. lobby into a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop, with graffiti on the walls and skateboards and throw pillows scattered around. As part of its "Millennial-Con," Scratch brought in viral video stars like Sergio Flores, known as the Sexy Sax Man, a musician with a mullet and a denim jacket.
Mr. Martin has recruited what he calls "insurgents" -- young Chevrolet employees who are willing to change things from the insideand report to him on skeptical executives. "How do you embed the voice of a generation in a company the size of G.M.?" he said, sinking into an armchair near a communal coffee maker. "It's like moving a crater."
But G.M. was determined to be moved. "It was the early days after bankruptcy, and we said, What are we really going to do differently in the next five or 10 years?" said Mark L. Reuss, president of General Motors North America.
He lined up meetings with Viacom. He asked executives how the company could apply MTV's research and programming strategy to Chevrolet, which makes up 70 percent of G.M.'s sales in the United Statesand was, in the halcyon days of the car, a youth brand. The companies homed in on several of Chevy's smaller and more fuel- efficient models, like the Sonic, the Cruze and the Spark.
Founded in 2010 as part of MTV, Scratch now taps into audiences who watch other Viacom cable channels, like Comedy Central; Spike, which caters to young men; and VH1, a music and celebrity channel. It is a new source of revenue for the media company outside traditional advertising.
"We used to use research in a very proprietary way, but it became clear advertisers were hungry for our insights," said Philippe Dauman, Viacom's president and chief executive.
G.M. hired John McFarland, 31, a marketing executive who previously worked at Procter & Gamble, to oversee the company's MTV- ification. Mr. McFarland said it had been a challenge to prove to his bosses that young consumers had money to spend -- $170 billion in buying power, according to the market research firm comScore -- and did not just rely on their parents. "There's been a lot of pessimism in the auto industry toward this generation," he said.
But signs of change are there. On a recent morning in the General Motors Technical Center, a couple of car executives huddled around a "persona board" in the color and trim laboratory.
They studied a collage loaded with images of hip products like Beats headphones, created by the music producer and rapper Dr. Dre; a tablet computer; and a chunky watch. The board inspired new Chevrolet colors, like "techno pink," "lemonade" and "denim," aimed at "a 23-year-old who shops at H&M and Target and listens to Wale with Beats headphones," said Rebecca Waldmeir, a color and trim designer for Chevrolet. The rainbow of youthful hues will be available on the Spark this summer.
Still, any turnaround will not be quick. Car designs have a lead time of about three years. The paint has to dry (colors are baked in the Arizona desert for a year before they are approved and introduced to consumers). And the car industry, from assembly line to union to smooth-talking dealer, revolves around a powerful and entrenched culture.
It is also unlikely that G.M. will adopt some of Scratch's advice. After installing "secret shoppers" at selected Chevrolet dealerships, Scratch recommended that sales representatives abandon the hard sell and that the traditional system, based on commissions, be reimagined. Young buyers, they realized, are used to Apple stores, where sales representatives do not push products. Joel Ewanick, G.M.'s global chief marketing officer, said the automaker was training dealers on how to adapt to young car buyers.
"We tried to teach dealers how to calibrate conversations," Mr. Martin said. "Stop trying to be cool and give them the fist pump. They can tell you don't get it."
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