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Rear-wheel-drive Impala? Chevy's thinking about it

Old 07-13-2006, 09:28 AM
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Default Rear-wheel-drive Impala? Chevy's thinking about it

Jim Mateja

Rear-wheel-drive Impala? Chevy's thinking about it

Published June 23, 2006

Chrysler got it right.

General Motors didn't.

Ditto Ford.

So says John Wolkonwicz, senior analyst for Global Insight, an automotive research and consulting firm.

"The domestics chased the wrong customer the last 25 years--white-collar Toyota, Honda and Nissan intenders rather than blue-collar NASCAR families.

"It's socially unacceptable for Camry intenders to drive a domestic," he said. "The blue-collar buyer is the one who wants a Ford, Chevy or Dodge."

Wolkonwicz points out that GM and Ford lack a midsize, high-performance, rear-wheel-drive sedan NASCAR followers cherish. Chrysler has the 300C and Dodge Charger, and soon may have the Dodge Challenger.

He said there are rumblings that Chevy is going to enter the market with a high-performance Impala--in rear-wheel drive, of course.

Wolkonwicz and the NASCAR crowd may be in for a treat: Chevy is considering just such an Impala.

"We're looking at a RWD Impala, but it would be a few years out," said Ed Peper, general manager of Chevrolet. He stopped in town this week to give the Midwest Automotive Media Association a peek at what the automaker has coming for 2007.

"There definitely is a RWD performance-car market out there. Our rivals offer only front-wheel-drive midsize sedans, so if we can offer both FWD [Malibu] and RWD [Impala], that would be an attractive alternative for consumers," he said. Hmm, sounds like Wolkonwicz was right on about whom Chevy considers its competition.

Chevy also is looking at a RWD coupe: a production version of the concept Camaro from this year's auto-show circuit.

Peper said GM will decide by the end of September whether Camaro gets a go-ahead. But a decision on a RWD Impala doesn't hinge on that, he said.

As for Chevy's FWD sedan, the next-generation Malibu comes out for the 2008 model year derived from the extended-length Malibu Maxx, which would make it about 2 inches longer than Impala.

Peper said no decision has been made on whether to continue to offer Malibu and Maxx. Sources say rather than keep Maxx, Chevy might get a crossover.

Two sedans of similar size is another reason that one with FWD and one with RWD make sense.

Another Chevy change may be in the works. GM will introduce three midsize, all-wheel-drive crossovers: the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia this fall and the Buick Enclave early next year.

GM developed the crossovers in anticipation that high gas prices will cool demand for midsize AWD sport-utility vehicles.

"It looks like Chevy will get a [crossover] as well that will replace the midsize TrailBlazer SUV in its lineup," Wolkonwicz said, which hints Acadia could replace the Envoy at GMC.

Chevy already has dropped the extended-length TrailBlazer.

A crossover was never in GM's plans, and Peper refused to talk about it replacing the regular-length TrailBlazer or Chevy Uplander mini-van, both of which are experiencing soft sales.

"There's room for a TrailBlazer-size vehicle. Midsize utes and mini-vans heat up and cool down, but we need an entry in that size," Peper said. He did admit, however, that the crossover could cover both TrailBlazer and Uplander.

As for Ford, "It needs to evaluate the [crossover] in its cycle plans as well. There are reports it will add the Fairlane [crossover] derived from the Ford Five Hundred sedan, though some reports have it derived from the Ford Fusion sedan, which would be too small," Wolkonwicz said.

GM's coy and Ford's mum, so it will take a while to sort this all out.

Stay tuned.

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