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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

STAGING A COMEBACK: Chevrolet Malibu

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STAGING A COMEBACK

Malibu could be answer to Camry

General Motors aims to win customers back with the redesigned sedan's 'silent and silky' ride

August 17, 2007

BY KATIE MERX

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

With the newly redesigned Chevrolet Malibu, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says General Motors Corp. finally has the high-volume midsize sedan that can win buyers away from other models -- even the Toyota Camry.

Lutz characterizes the new Malibu's ride and handling as "silent and silky" and for somewhere in the high-teens to low-$20,000 range, it drives like something that costs $35,000 to $40,000.

The Malibu is the first high-volume Camry competitor designed under Lutz, who was hired in 2001 to rejuvenate the automaker's lineup.

"The Malibu is certainly our latest and most serious effort to do an absolutely no-excuses mid-market American sedan, with prices from high teens to low 20s," Lutz said Thursday before the Woodward Dream Cruise. "Our intention is to create a value-to-quality equation so compelling it will get some people to switch brands. The only way to get people to switch is to build a better car."

The newly redesigned Chevrolet Malibu is arguably General Motors Corp.'s most important new car launch this year, as the automaker defends its title as the world's largest against fast-growing Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp.

GM invited a small group of automotive journalists to see and drive a few early production versions of the Malibu -- and the Toyota Camry -- at the Milford Proving Grounds on Thursday to demonstrate just how confident GM executives are that they have created a car that can win buyers away from other brands, particularly sedan titans Toyota and Honda Motor Co.

GM allowed journalists the early peek at its latest sedan on the condition they not write about their driving impressions until Nov. 2, when the car is expected to hit showrooms.

Engineers and designers at the proving grounds on Thursday said they believe they have topped the Camry and Honda Accord, pointing to tighter fit and finish of the interiors; upscale materials and textures; simple sleek lines; a quiet interior; and fine-tuned stability, braking and handling systems that they believe will be considered best in class.

GM will offer three powertrain options initially, Malibu chief engineer Mike Meloeny said, including a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, four-speed; a 3.6-liter V6 six-speed and a four-speed gas-electric hybrid.

And next year, the automaker will offer a four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed transmission in a move Meloeny said could boost the sedan's highway fuel economy above 30 m.p.g.

The hybrid version is expected to improve fuel economy in the four-cylinder by about two m.p.g. in both the city and highway categories, to 24 m.p.g. city and 32 m.p.g. highway.

"I like it; it's a good-looking car," said auto analyst Kevin Tynan of Argus Research. "The biggest hurdle now is image. The Malibu has been off the radar and, if it's going to be a success, you've got to get people to consider it."

Chevrolet's director of car marketing Cheryl Catton confirmed this week that the automaker will spend at least $100 million to promote the Malibu against the Camry.

Part of its marketing campaign will be to place the Camry and Accord sedans in Chevrolet showrooms alongside the Malibu.

But analyst Rebecca Lindland of Global Insight said that needs to be just one part of a successful campaign.

"The biggest challenge is going to be getting people into the showrooms to look at the Malibu," Lindland said. "They will need to do things to try to get younger buyers in it and that means nontraditional marketing."

And they're going to need to do that better than they have historically, analysts said, because the company has so de-emphasized its reliance on sales to less-profitable rental fleets.

But Joseph Phillippi believes GM will get it right with the Malibu.

"One-hundred million dollars is a lot of money," Phillippi said. "That will buy you a lot of radio, print, TV and online advertising. ... And I'm sure they're trying to dream up some novel ways to get some big attention."

Contact KATIE MERX at 313-222-8762 or kmerx@freepress.com. Business writer Mark Phelan and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

Source:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article.../708170378/1014

Edited by NINETY EIGHT REGENCY
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But Joseph Phillippi believes GM will get it right with the Malibu.

If Joe thinks GM will get it right, then I have a lot of hope. :)

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and a quick note to GM...do not let the dealers 'rent' the Camry and Accord cars so that customers cannot drive them against the 'bu...our dealer did that here with the Aura event and it made a lot of people mad. The clients were only allowed to drive the Aura and sit in the competitor cars. Kind of ruined the campaign.

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But Joseph Phillippi believes GM will get it right with the Malibu.

Is that who I think it is? :AH-HA_wink:
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Good news indeed. This car will sell on its merits alone with decent advertising it will SELL LIKE NUTS!

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"Our intention is to create a value-to-quality equation so compelling it will get some people to switch brands. The only way to get people to switch is to build a better car."

Way to go Bob! That statement alone gives me faith that GM is well on its way to recovery.

The Malibu looks as though it could be a true contender. I can't wait to see it in person! GM is wise to invest that much money to get the word out about the 2008 model considering what a rental car darling the past 2 generations of this car have been. The transformation is extraordinary!

Best of luck to Bob and the rest of the GM crew!

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The only way to get people to switch is to build a better car."

Actually, I think there is a second extremely important factor, and a corrected statement would go something like:

The only way to get people to switch is to build a better car, and then help them realize that that's what it is."

Fortunately since they're already ready to spend the bucks on advertising, this factor will hopefully not get overlooked. Product is huge, but so is image, and that's a big part of what the Camry and some other vehicles are riding on. Image can take a care that gets a "B" (or even a "C" for a little while) and bump it up to an "A" in people's minds, and thus their purchases.

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Is that who I think it is? :AH-HA_wink:

No, that is not his last name.
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