If there’s one question that’s bugging Chevrolet and GM, it’s what to do about sales of the newest Malibu.
Long one of Chevy’s most dependable sales generators, the latest generation Malibu has fallen on hard times almost since its rollout early in 2012 even though the refresh greatly improved the car’s looks and the fact the Mlaibu can definitely hold its own with the competition.
The problem is even more painful when sales of the newest Malibu are compared to those of the new Ford Fusion. From the time the Fusion was introduced in 2005 until roughly 2010, the Malibu outsold the Ford. Thereafter, it Chevy was playing catch-up to the Ford. In the most recent two-month period ended February 28, Ford dealers were selling ten Fusions for every six Malibus Chevy dealers could move. Those kind of numbers were bound to attract attention in the upper floors of the Renaissance Center.
The slump is a problem for GM; the company just did the refresh and a slick new Impala is on the way along with a number of other new vehicles. Plus, the Malibu plays in a very competitive segment that also happens to be the largest single segment of the light vehicle market: four-door family sedans.
We tested two of the Malibus, an ECO with GM’s mild hybrid system and a more conventional, but still upscale, 2LTZ. Both were very good cars, with a nod to the ECO for its extra power boost and one to the 2LTZ for the extra trunk and passenger room. We couldn’t really recommend them for the hard-driving enthusiast, but anyone in the market for a comfortable family car should have the Malibu on their short list.
The problem may well lie in the Malibu’s launch. It didn’t get a big media splash and Chevy elected to lead with the higher-priced ECO. The drawback to the ECO is likely one of perception: though it carries a higher sticker price than the standard Malibu, it’s not a true hybrid and won’t deliver the kind of fuel economy the public has come to expect from hybrids like the Toyota Prius. It does offer some benefits, such as more enjoyable driving, but that can be a hard sale to make for the family looking for a vanilla-mobile.
GM has already addressed the price issue, but there may need to be more discounts or some well-promoted incentives.
Truth be told, the Fusion is going to be a tough car to catch and from the data of the past couple of months, it’s a good bet that a fair number of new Fusion owners traded in GM cars.
Incoming marketing chief Tim Mahoney has a big job on his hands and one of his first tasks will be to light a fire under Malibu sales. Considering the competition from without and the competition from within (Impala, SS, Silverado), he’s got a tough assignment.