Looking for the silver lining in high gas prices

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A Malibu wagon?

Don't look for it in showrooms any time soon. But General Motors' North American president Mark Reuss says it's an intriguing idea, for two reasons.

One is the rising price of gas.

Wagons have been a tough sell in the United States for a few decades now. People who want roomier, more-flexible interior space began gravitating to minivans in the 1980s and later to SUVs and crossovers.

But Reuss says wagons could gain currency as a fuel-economy play.

"As we see the environment change … the wagons may become a relevant point that we would want to leverage," Reuss said at the New York auto show, after unveiling an eAssist mild-hybrid version of the next-generation Malibu.

A 1979 Malibu wagon. Will rising gas prices prompt GM to resurrect a Chevy Malibu wagon for the U.S. market sometime down the road?

Photo credit: GM

Reason No. 2: It would be relatively easy for GM to make a Malibu wagon because the car is built on its global Epsilon platform, which makes it simpler to build variants of the same vehicle.

"The turnaround time for that type of decision would be quite small because of the leverage we have on a global basis," Reuss said.

Reuss' ruminations on a Chevy wagon show an overlooked bright side of rising gas prices.

Some Chevy dealers already are grousing about the recent, subtle shift to cars, which offer puny profits compared to pickups and crossovers.

But as higher fuel prices change consumer behavior, it can lead to the production of vehicles that never would have gotten made otherwise – offering more options for customers.

Another example: Reuss says he could see an eAssist version of the hot-selling Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers.

While nobody likes them, higher gas prices present opportunities. And GM is in a better position to take advantage of those than it's ever been.

You can reach Mike Colias at mcolias@crain.com.

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