BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Chevrolet wants to boost Malibu sales by an ambitious 80,000 units when the redesigned 2004 car hits the streets this month.
But the mid-sized car segment is shrinking, and the competition is rigorous.
Chevrolet is countering with an additional body style, the hatchback Malibu Maxx. In addition, GM is offering features commonly associated with more expensive vehicles, such as the optional remote engine starter and a DVD player.
"If we can execute it right, which we believe (we) have, they will come," Brent Dewar, Chevrolet's general manager, said at a press event here.
He expects to sell 250,000 Malibus annually beginning in 2004, up from 169,377 in 2002.
The 2004 Malibu sedan goes on sale this month, and the Maxx will go into production in December. Sedan advertising begins in the second half of October, and ads for the Maxx will follow in January or February.
The base Malibu sedan stickers at $18,995, including $625 destination; the LS is $20,99; and the LT is $23,495. The Malibu Maxx LS is $22,225, while the LT is $24,725.
Dewar faces a Herculean challenge. The lower mid-range segment is shrinking as buyers move to other models, especially sport wagons. Sales of vehicles in this segment, including such vehicles as the Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta, Chrysler PT Cruiser and Malibu, dropped 8.6 percent last year to 1,390,073 units, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Malibu sales fell 4.1 percent in 2002 and 10 percent in the first seven months of this year.
One of the keys to increasing sales was developing a two-model strategy car with a wide range of standard and optional features and a family of engines.
"When we started the Malibu project, our objective was to increase market coverage - offer the customer more choices, selections than they had in the past," said Gene Stefanyshyn, vehicle line executive.
The Maxx, a five-door hatchback, features such standard equipment as a sky light over the rear passengers and a rear seat with 7 inches of forward-and-back travel to increase passenger or cargo space.
The base Malibu sedan is equipped with a 145-hp, 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 155 pounds-feet of torque. A V-6 is optional. A four-cylinder was not offered on the 2003 model.
Standard on LS and top-of-the-line LT models is a 200-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 220 pounds-feet of torque. The 2003 model had a 170-hp, 3.1-liter V-6 with 190 pounds-feet of torque. A V-6 with approximately 235 hp will arrive in 2005 for the sporty Malibu Maxx SS.
More styling freedom
The Malibu and Malibu Maxx are the first North America-built vehicles developed off General Motors' global Epsilon architecture, shared with the Opel Vectra and the Saab 9-3. The front-drive architecture is expected to account for about 1.3 million vehicles worldwide annually by mid-2005 when all variants off the platform are in production.
The architecture also will be shared by the 2005 Pontiac G6 (the replacement for the Grand Am), a Saturn sedan and a possible Buick. The current-generation Malibu was last redesigned for the 1997 model year.
Epsilon gives engineers and stylists significant freedom to avoid look-alike vehicles for different brands.
For example, the Epsilon's architecture can produce vehicles with wheelbases ranging from 105 inches to 112 inches.
The 2004 Malibu sedan's wheelbase is 106.3 inches, and the car's overall length is 188.3 inches. The 2003 model has a wheelbase of 107.0 inches and a length of 190 inches.
The Malibu Maxx has a 112.3-inch wheelbase and a length of 187.8 inches.
The Epsilon architecture is stiffer and stronger than the 2003 Malibu architecture, which makes the car more crashworthy and reduces squeaks and rattles.
Additionally, the Malibu has lower levels of noise, vibration and harshness. The car has a noise-dampening plate between the firewall and the passenger compartment, fiberglass insulation under the hood and trunk lid, and foam insulation under the carpets.
The Malibu interior.
The 2004 Malibu is the first mid-sized GM car assembled in North America with electric power steering. The lighter weight system uses no hoses or fluid and contributes to a 0.7-mpg gain in fuel economy.
The four-cylinder model has an EPA rating of 24 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. The V-6 is rated at 23 mpg and 32 mpg.
Each Malibu is equipped with GM's four-speed electronic automatic transmission, power doors locks and outside mirrors, air conditioning and a CD player. A 60-40 split-folding rear seat back and a fold-flat front seat also are standard.
The LT sedan and both Maxx models are equipped with four-wheel disc brakes. The other models have discs in front and drums in the rear. Antilock brakes and traction control are standard on LS and LT models and available on the base sedan.
Chevrolet will stress such standard features as the power-operated height adjuster on the driver's seat and a tilt steering wheel that features a telescoping steering column.
Additionally, power-operated pedals that adjust the height of the brake and accelerator are available. The feature is standard on LS and LT models and available on the base Malibu sedan. A side curtain head airbag is optional.
Several features are intended to give the vehicle a luxury-car flair. For example, the message center in the instrument panel provides 15 warning messages. The panel advises the driver that ice is forming on the road, the battery on the key fob is getting low or the engine needs an oil change.
Discussing the range of features, Stefanyshyn said, "The objective was to put out a wider net so that we could catch more fish, as it were."