Saturday, November 25, 2006

For GM, it's about Malibu's inner beauty

Wednesday, November 22, 2006
For GM, it's about Malibu's inner beauty
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- General Motors Corp. wants its future Malibu to look and feel more sophisticated to drivers and it announced Tuesday that it's starting from the inside of the car.

The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu will feature a striking two-tone cockpit and other upscale features GM hopes will help one of its mainstay models stand out in a crowded field of midsize sedans dominated by Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Troy Clarke, president of North American operations, showed the first pictures of the Malibu's new interior to the Automotive Press Association on Tuesday in Detroit.

"We paid very close attention to precision and detail" with the Malibu design, Clarke said. "We're making it look like a much more expensive vehicle."

The Malibu represents GM's efforts to focus more on interiors and design, an area in which the carmaker once lagged the best foreign automakers. GM is also trying to strengthen its position in passenger cars as many buyers turn away from SUVs.

"It's a beautiful car," said Jim Quinlan, a Chevy dealer from Knoxville, Tenn., who saw the new vehicle at a recent dealers meeting in Las Vegas. "They've got a dead winner on their hands with that one."

The automaker is looking to build that kind of buzz about the redesigned Malibu, which will debut in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The Malibu's interior "showcases the precision and detailed execution that will differentiate it among the mid-size car segment," Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper said in a statement. It "will offer a number of striking and progressive interiors that use premium materials to demonstrate quality and value not seen before in this segment."

The new Malibu will come with optional leather trim and more rounded exterior design that will be markedly different from the boxy Malibu of today.

GM has not said how much the new Malibu will cost. Analysts have said the basic model may be similar to the 2007 base price of $17,155.

The Malibu has been an important vehicle for GM. It has sold more than 144,000 units this year, making it the third best-selling Chevrolet car behind the Impala and Cobalt. But demand is down about 12 percent through October compared with the first 10 months of last year.'s Insideline Web site predicts the new Malibu will "finally put some heat" on the Accord and Camry.

The Malibu is vital to GM not only for its sales, but for its potential to help improve the automaker's image, said Brian Moody, road test editor with Edmunds .com.

The Malibu has long been a worthy competitor among foreign counterparts such as the Accord, but interiors that appear cheap have devalued the vehicle in the eyes of consumers, Moody said.

"They've gotten knocked in the past for having terrible interiors," he said. With the new Malibu, "they've taken things up not just a notch but maybe two or three. This is about projecting an image of quality and competitiveness.

"That's what's at stake."

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313)223-4686 or

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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