DETROIT — Chevrolet continues to slash sales to daily rental fleets by pulling back on sales of the Impala sedan.
While January sales of the new Chevrolet Malibu mid-sized sedan rose 57.9 percent from January 2007, sales of the larger Impala fell 30.6 percent. Most of the Impala's decline is due to cuts in sales to daily rental fleets, General Motors says.
The Impala had been a hot seller. It finished 2007 up 7.3 percent to 311,128 units.
"We're still doing the methodical reduction in daily rental, and that is reflected in that Impala number," says Terry Rhadigan, a Chevrolet spokesman. "Huge progress is being made. You'll see some decline in numbers, and don't be alarmed. It's all part of our strategy."
GM executives began implementing that strategy in early 2006 when they repriced many vehicles and said they wanted to increase average transaction prices, improve residual values and decrease unprofitable sales to daily rental fleets.
Rhadigan would not give the Impala's retail and fleet sales totals.
GM launched the restyled, re-engineered 2008 Malibu on Nov. 1. Through Jan. 29, Chevrolet had sold 27,968 Malibus. That includes fleet sales, Rhadigan says.
Does the Malibu's success, coupled with weaker Impala sales, mean the new Malibu is luring buyers from the Impala? Dealers and analysts say no.
"The Malibu is new in the showroom, and that always counts for something with some buyers," says Jim Hall, director of industry analysis at 2953 Analytics in suburban Detroit. "If you're buying truly on price, you'll always get an Impala because that's a hell of a deal on a vehicle that size. It's not all cannibalization."
Dealers say the Malibu is attracting customers and helping boost sales of other models.
"Because we're selling Malibus so well and we don't have a lot of inventory, we're taking people who might want a Malibu and selling them Impalas," says Bill Perkins, owner of Taylor Chevrolet and Merollis Chevrolet, both in suburban Detroit. "They're OK with that because of the value."
On the East Coast, dealers report, the Malibu and Impala attract different types of buyers.
"They are two different cars, despite being similar in size," says John LaSorsa, owner of LaSorsa Auto Group in New York. He sells Chevrolet, Buick and Pontiac.
Says LaSorsa: "The Malibu has such style it's pulling in an import customer."