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How Many Models Can Chevrolet Handle? Here's My Chevy Lineup

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How Many Models Can Chevrolet Handle? Here's My Chevy Lineup

DETROIT - A grizzled veteran asked me that question at the North American International Auto Show last week in Detroit. General Motors must be thinking about it, too. New GM wants Chevrolet, which until now could give up some of its volume-model sales to Pontiac, Saturn and Buick, to account for 70 percent of its sales volume in North America. After decades as America's most popular brand, Chevrolet has trailed both Toyota and Ford for several years.

Toyota division, which includes Scion, sold 1,496,211 to Ford's 1,440,653 and Chevrolet's 1,338,612 in the U.S. in 2009. Ford had two models in the top 10, the F-150 (No. 1) and Fusion (No. 9), Toyota had two, the Camry (No. 2) and Corolla/Matrix (No. 4) and Honda had three, the Accord (No. 5), Civic (No. 6) and CR-V (No. 8). Chevrolet had just one in the top 10, the Silverado (No. 3). (Nissan Altima was seventh, Dodge Ram tenth.) Badge engineering continues to take its toll even with half of GM's divisions gone. If all GMC Sierra sales had gone to Silverado, the Chevy truck would be the nation's number-one seller, at 428,386 to F-150's 413,625.

Chevy's biggest problem, though, is the Impala-Malibu split. While Ford has upsized and upscaled its Taurus to compete with the Lincoln MKS instead of the midsize Ford Fusion, the Impala and Malibu collide in Chevy showrooms.

Base price for the 2010 Chevy Malibu LS four-cylinder is $22,545 and base price for the '10 Impala LS V-6 is $24,715. Most buyers move up a trim level and get discounts, but GM execs have been proud about how the average transaction price (ATP) of the Malibu has climbed about $3000 since they launched the new, much-improved '08 model. It's safe to assume that the Impala's ATP is no more than a couple-hundred dollars higher -- if not equal to, or even lower -- than the Malibu these days.

What's Chevrolet to do? The next Impala will be another front-drive car, sharing the Epsilon II architecture that underpins the '10 Buick LaCrosse. The Malibu will have undergone another major change by the '13 model year, also on Epsilon II, but using the shorter wheelbase of the '11 Buick Regal/'09 Opel Insignia.

The next Impala will either have to be another large value-size sedan like the current model, and step on the Malibu's toes, or it will go upmarket, targeting Ford Taurus and putting some space between the Malibu and itself, and step on the LaCrosse's toes, instead. So the current Impala soldiers on for about three more model years, because its incremental sales and relatively low costs make up for its ancient hardware.

Yikes. To make matters worse for Chevy, the next Malibu gets shorter overhangs for a shorter overall size, while maintaining decent interior space. It will need a more formal roofline than the Buick Regal, however, or risk tight rear-seat headroom. A rakish roofline and tight rear headroom is fine for the Regal, which is being marketed as a kind of "sport sedan," but not for the Malibu, which must continue to compete with Camry/Accord/Altima and the very hot Ford Fusion.

The tough part for Chevy is that a smaller Malibu spells trouble for the Cruze, which launches later this year in North America. Cruze is on the larger end of the compact segment, nearly a c/d-segment car even by Chevy's own description, so the Cruze and next Malibu will be too close in size. If Chevy does nothing to change this, it will become a three-way showroom collision between Impala, Malibu and Cruze.

At least Chevy isn't getting carried away in the crossover/utility vehicle segment, the way Ford is with Escape, Edge, Flex and the coming unibody Explorer. Chevy's new Equinox and Traverse are doing quite well in the market. But the '12 Orlando throws a wrench in the works. As a multi-purpose vehicle competing with the Mazda5 and coming Ford C-Max, the Orlando would be fine ... except that Chevy says it's going for more of a CUV image with the Orlando, which will feature four conventional doors instead of sliding doors like on the Mazda5.

Orlando is designed mostly for the European market, and it's the HHR replacement here. It's smaller than the Equinox, yet with three rows of seats. That ought to confuse some buyers.

You can see why I got that question at the top of this post. Here's what I think Chevrolet should do. This list doesn't include the '11 Volt or full-size vans:

Impala: Drop, then bring it back if and when, GM can get sufficient weight out of the Zeta platform (there were no '97-'99 Impalas -- remember the Lumina?). It must include the latest efficient V-6 technology. Market it against the Ford Taurus and Dodge Charger and aim for volumes only in the mid-tens of thousands. Don't reintroduce it as the Caprice -- that segment is for a RWD Buick. After all, the '65 Caprice was the Chevy that bled into Pontiac and Oldsmobile territory.

Malibu: The smaller, more efficient '13 model is the right next-generation model, so long as it has good interior space. The new Hyundai Sonata signals the direction for this segment, which means no V-6 option. With no FWD Impala eating up showroom space and ad budget, it ought to sell in the 200,000-plus range against Fusion, Nissan Altima, Accord and even Camry.

Cruze: It launched in Europe in early '09, so Chevy ought to be working on a second-generation model for model year '14 or thereabouts. It will be on the same platform, but if it has tighter bodywork and a smaller overall size, it should have little overlap with the next Malibu. Next time, Chevy had better launch it in North America at the same time as Europe and Asia.

Aveo: The new '11 model looks like a huge leap forward, and may give the Ford Fiesta some competition. It appears to be on the right track.

Spark: A niche model here with overly funky styling. The Fiat 500, and the Ka if Ford chooses to import it, ought to put it on the trailer.

Traverse: It's selling well, so what needs to change is Buick, which should drop lower-spec versions of its Enclave.

Equinox: Also off to a good start. So far the strategy on this new model looks good.

Orlando: Don't pretend this is any kind of soft-off-roader. Maybe sell it with FWD only.

Suburban/Tahoe: Cut the Chevy Tahoe and cut the GMC Yukon XL if GM wants any kind of variance, but good luck appeasing the dealers.

Silverado: Not much to do other than watch Ford outsell it, so long as there's a GMC Sierra.

Colorado: If Chevy can apply fuel-efficient technologies to the Silverado the way Ford plans with the F-150, it would make this model superfluous.

Camaro: The only way there can be a next-generation model is to downsize it significantly. If Hyundai can do what it did with the Genesis sedan and coupe (and an upcoming coupe-size Kia sedan) why can't GM?

Corvette: Keep building it. And just as the Porsche 911 always will be rear-engine, the C7 should be front-engine/rear-wheel-drive. I don't think it needs to be all-V-8, though.



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if the corvette ever gets anything smaller then a v8, ill lead the charge to detroit with a pitchfork and torch


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I mostly agree, although the Spark I'm not sold on, Smart car sales have dropped a lot, and that is built buy Mercedes who has a great reputation, not GM who has a lousy reputation right now. I'd like to see Impala go to rear wheel drive, Zeta lightened, and V6 in the Express and Silverado. The best thing for Chevy would be to kill GMC off, then Chevy can support a lot of models.


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