Sunday, January 07, 2007

Chevy shows 'new face' of Malibu

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Chevy shows 'new face' of Malibu
Scott Burgess / The Detroit News

The same day General Motors Corp. announced it will invest $208 million in its Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City, Kan., to build the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu, it released the first photo of the redesigned car's exterior.

The entry-level midsize sedan, which will be unveiled at the Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January, will go on sale at the end of next year.

GM has high hopes for the new Malibu, which analysts say might become Chevrolet's highest volume car in the coming years and play an important role in the carmaker comeback bid.

The teaser photo released Monday shows the Malibu's new dual-port grill, narrower headlights and more rounded hood. While most details on the car have not been released, GM says it will have a longer hood, a shorter deck and a stance that pulls the wheels more out to the car's corners.

The made-over front-end is described by GM as the "new face of Chevrolet," according to a statement accompanying the new photograph.

GM has also touted the 2008 Malibu's interior, noting significant design changes and upgrades, as well as a number of new two-tone leather packages.

The interior and exterior improvements, as well as potential powertrain enhancements, are moving the Malibu into a more respectable neighborhood, said Eriche Merkle, director of forecasting for IRN Inc., an automotive consulting company.

"There's no question, this is night and day better than what they have out there now," he said. "The new Malibu is a very attractive looking car. I think it's going to do quite well in the marketplace."

Through November, sales of the Malibu for the year are down 13.7 percent, selling 149,000 units, according to Autodata.

Work has already started at the Fairfax facility to prepare for the new Malibu, said United Auto Workers Local 31 president Jim Manning, adding that the union learned it would keep building the Malibu on Friday.

"This is something we've worked really hard for," said Manning. "It's a credit to the 2,900 workers here. They do a great job."

Currently the home to the Saturn Aura midsize sedan and present generation Malibu and Malibu MAXX, the assembly plant held onto the Malibu with the help of tax incentives offered by the state and local governments to GM.

"This investment is a testament to the hard work of the Fairfax employees, the UAW and local and state elected officials to make the plant and business environment competitive," said Larry Zahner, GM's North America manufacturing manager, during a morning ceremony at the plant.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who attended the announcement, credited a repeal of the old tax system on business investments as a key to GM's decision to keep building the Malibu in Kansas City.

The county government offered a five-year property tax abatement and Kansas recently eliminated a property tax on business machinery and equipment, said Pam Reese, a GM spokeswoman. Had the state not repealed the law, the $208 million investment could have been taxed.

GM will use the multi-million dollar investment to expand the plant's body shop and to purchase the tooling necessary to build the new Malibu, Reese said.

An undisclosed second plant was considered for the assembly of the new Malibu but Reese declined to identify it.

Scott Burgess can be reached at 313-223-3217 or

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