GM Targets New Impala at Retail Customers Not Rental Companies

General Motors Co. (GM) wants to attract a different kind of buyer with the redesigned Chevrolet Impala: retail customers.

More than 70 percent of Impalas in the U.S. were sold to government or corporate fleets, including car-rental companies. Those are often bulk sales at discounted prices. That’s something GM wants to change with new styling and improved fuel efficiency as the automaker works to revive a nameplate that dates to the late 1950s.

“There’s no doubt this is going to play a different role in the Chevrolet lineup than it has,” Chris Perry, vice president for the brand’s global marketing and strategy, told reporters last week in advance of the New York auto show, where the car is slated to be shown today. It will arrive in U.S. showrooms in the first half of next year, he said.

The upper-midsize segment, fueled largely by fleet buyers, reached 1.6 million in 2000 with 15 different models before falling to 412,000 last year with seven entries as customers’ tastes changed to sport-utility vehicles or more fuel-efficient smaller cars, said Rebecca Lindland, an industry analyst with IHS Automotive.

“This segment definitely has declined in recent years but there is still a very loyal buyer for this type of vehicle,” she said in a telephone interview.

U.S. sales of the Impala fell 0.4 percent last year to 171,434, according to researcher Autodata Corp. The best year for the Impala was 1965 when more than 1 million were sold, Detroit-based GM said.

Fleet Versus Retail

Sales to fleet customers made up 71 percent of Impala’s U.S. deliveries last year, according to Santa Monica, California-based TrueCar.com. That’s nearly twice the industry average of about 40 percent for the same market segment, said Jesse Toprak, a TrueCar analyst.

“Generally speaking, everything else being equal, retail is more profitable than fleet,” he said.

IHS estimates sales of the new Impala will fall to about 95,000 in the U.S. in 2014 as GM cuts back on low-profit fleet sales, Lindland said.

“Part of that logic and philosophy is that in order to be competitive in this segment, you can’t have it dominate by fleet,” she said.

Perry declined to provide targets for Impala.

“We’re not establishing any aggressive sales goals,” he said. “We’re going to build to demand.”

‘New Flagship’

Last redesigned in 2005, the Impala will be “truly a new flagship” for Chevrolet, Perry said. All of the brand’s other cars have been updated in the last 24 months, he said.

The Impala will have three powertrain options, including a 2.4-liter engine with GM’s fuel-saving eAssist system that uses an electric motor to help power the wheels in certain conditions. GM said that version of the Impala should get 35 miles (56 kilometers) per gallon on the highway.

“It’s just a larger more, refined ride than the Malibu,” Perry said. “Sometimes people want a little bit more, a little bit more space, a little bit more firmness on the road and that’s what this Impala is going to be able to deliver.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim Higgins in Southfield, Michigan at thiggins21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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