GM Takes "Co-Creation" Literally

I've been a closet Corvette fan ever since I was a kid.  I went with my step-dad to the Corvette Corral in Bloomington, Illinois every year, admiring the cars on display, marveling at how they changed over time. (I've always been partial to the 1958 model, red with white sidewalls, in case you were wondering.) One thing that became clear to me that continues to this day: Corvette fans aren't just car geeks, they are Corvette geeks. And yesterday, GM gave those fans a gift.

In its announcement, Chevrolet revealed a new strategy for selling its revered Corvette: for an extra $5,800, those who buy a 2011 Z06 (top) or ZR1 (bottom) can go to General Motors' Performance Build Center in Wixom, MI and build the actual LS7 or LS9 engine that will sit in the car they buy.  That doesn't mean they will watch someone build it -- the customer will actually assemble the engine (under the watchful eye of an engine expert, natch).  What makes this possible is the fact that every engine for these cars is already hand-built (something I did not know prior to today). 

As Tom Stephens, GM vice chairman, Global Product Operations put it: “Today's LS7 and LS9 Corvette engines are pinnacle achievements in engineering, and to personally involve our customers in their final creation shows the depth of Chevrolet’s commitment to make lasting connections with the customer.”   

OK, so this isn't co-creation as most of us have come to recognize that term.  I defined co-creation in a recent report as "the act of involving consumers directly, and in some cases repeatedly, in the product creation or innovation process." I suppose what GM is doing could be called "co-production," although that conjurs slightly negative connotations if you start thinking of it in the same way as a build-it-yourself bookshelf from Target or Ikea.  (Not that there's anything wrong with that - that's a brilliant strategy of its own.)  But I think it's more appropriate to view GM's offer as a (quite expensive) value-add, as opposed to crowdsourcing an assembly line.

Inviting the customer into the production process is an interesting and unique concept.  It takes pride of ownership to an entirely new level. Granted, we are talking about reaching customers who are willing to spend an extra $5,800 in addition to what they are paying for an already expensive sport car, so GM is clearly not viewing this as a mass-market product strategy. But for specialty/luxury brands, the idea of appealing to deep-pocketed consumers with a unique experience could well lock those customers down for life, or possibly even bring new well-heeled Corvette geeks into the fold.

What do you think?  Is this concept simply a marketing ploy, or does it have legs?  Is it strictly an option for luxury brands, or is it a super-expensive version of Plaster Fun Time? Can you think of any other products that could pull this off?  Would consumers get excited about building their own save-the-planet hybrid car?


Something more on-topic, perhaps...

On the up side, at least you're getting enough attention from the interwebs to warrant a spambot drive-by.

I'm a self-confessed car junkie and accordingly, this idea is extraordinarily attractive to me. I believe that my tendency to wish ill upon engineers and their families as I've struggled to work in confined spaces with obscenely uncooperative components would be mitigated by an opportunity like this. Perhaps $6K spent on therapy would have a better return, but I doubt it would be nearly as fun.

However, I have some trouble tying this add-on that GM is offering to the concept of co-creation or customer integration. The pricing might be unattractive, even within their core demographic, and the experience is a paint-by-the-numbers one (admittedly, a reproduction of a work of art, but still step-by-step).

Absent the actual "creation" component, which I imagine to mean "application of customer demand and sourcing customer creativity to a product design opportunity", this feels more like a boot camp for 'Vette enthusiasts. Perhaps the opportunities are absent in this product line - it seems most want a performance sports car like this because it's already good enough. They don't want to think about making it better.

When Scion was first launched, there was a lot of talk about the aftermarket options they would be offering customers. It was a significant break from the norm, where sport-compact enthusiasts would buy a new car and immediately begin swapping in aftermarket parts, but only after they could source them. Having the options come pre-installed gave the part-time tuner the incentive to engage and spend, rather than just imagine what they would do.

Of course, all the aftermarket options are now TRD (Toyota's own performance part line), but the optionality remains. I wish I had some idea of how successful they've been in engaging their base in this way. Based on what I see around town, I'd say the vast majority of customers are either unaware of the options or simply aren't interested, which is a shame.