Impala moving upscale, away from fleet business
NEW YORK -- General Motors unveiled the 2014 Chevrolet Impala sedan at the New York auto show last week, hoping to take the car upscale and boost retail demand while dialing back fleet sales.
It is the car's first redesign in eight years, after being delayed by GM's 2009 bankruptcy, and its first platform change since the late 1990s.
The aging Impala has soldiered on. U.S. sales of 171,434 in 2011 far exceeded those of its large-sedan rivals because of fleet sales, which accounted for roughly three-quarters of its volume.
"This is GM staking out their claim for this large-car segment with a significantly better product," said Aaron Bragman, an IHS Automotive analyst. "This is not a fleet special. You're looking at a higher-priced car, a higher-positioned car, a higher-margin car."
When the redesigned Impala arrives in showrooms roughly a year from now, GM executives say it will erase what even they acknowledge is a lingering blemish on Chevy's car lineup in terms of quality.
Partly because of aging models such as the Impala, GM ranked 12th out of 13 automakers in the April issue of Consumer Reports based on road test scores and quality and reliability data. The magazine deems the current Impala "dated and unimpressive."
The Impala competes with the Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon and other rivals in a large-sedan market that has been eroding for years as buyers have migrated to SUVs and crossovers.
"It has been a bit dormant in the full-sized category," acknowledged Chris Perry, vice president of global marketing for Chevrolet.
GM expects the redesigned Impala to "play a different role than it has" in Chevy's lineup, Perry says. Translation: Fewer fleet sales.
IHS Automotive expects the Impala's U.S. sales to plunge by more than half in 2014, to 84,138, from an expected 178,209 this year, because the price likely will go up sharply and fleet sales will fall, says Christopher Hopson, IHS's manager of North American sales forecasts.
Chevrolet's Perry wouldn't give a sales forecast for the 2014 model but conceded that fleet sales likely will decline. He said Impala prices will be in line with rivals such as the Avalon.
The sticker price could climb considerably from today's $26,585. The Maxima's sticker price is $32,840, and the Avalon's $33,995. All prices include shipping.
To help command a higher price, GM is counting on a much bolder design and advanced technology that could appeal to younger and more upscale buyers.
The redesigned Impala has a sleeker, swept-back profile, with a long nose and short rear deck.
Powertrains include an Ecotec 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine coupled with GM's eAssist mild hybrid system, which puts out 182 hp and is expected to get 35 mpg on the highway; a new Ecotec 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers 195 hp; and a 3.6-liter V-6 with an estimated 303 hp. All versions get a six-speed automatic transmission.
In four-cylinder versions, active noise cancellation, which uses microphones and sound waves to counteract noise, deliver a quiet cabin.
The Impala also is the first Chevy to get several safety features: forward collision-alert, lane-departure warning and a collision-mitigation system that alerts the driver of an impending crash and applies the brakes.
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