By Stuart Schwartzapfel
As Americans continue to abandon SUVs, cars and car-based crossovers are becoming a more popular method of transportation. Chevy has sold 240,000 of its midsize Impalas in the first 10 months of 2006, according to Automotive News, and is completely revamping the sedan for the 2010 model year. A fresh design, rear-wheel drive, and improved quality are among the many changes consumers can look forward to.
The next generation Impala will arrive after the all-new 2008 Malibu, which will likely debut at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Both new models are part of Chevrolet's plan to launch "hit" products that deliver quality and value and that sell on their own virtues and don't depend on fleet buyers (such as Avis and Hertz) for high sales volume.
The Impala nameplate has a rich history in the U.S. and was instrumental in establishing Chevrolet's market share early on. First introduced as a stand-alone model in 1958, the Impala was the best selling U.S. automobile for many years. The 1965 Impala sales record of more than one million units still stands. Most recently, the Impala name was resurrected for the 2000 model year to replace the Lumina.
Better Traction Sedans like Impala are the bread and butter of many automakers, with more than 2,000,000 midsize cars sold to Americans in 2005. Despite Impala's impressive sales records, the current generation just doesn't stack up against the Japanese competitors Camry and Accord.
The switch to rear-wheel drive is big news for Impala, which currently uses a front-wheel drive platform. Front-drive cars are typically thought of as being good for all-weather driving but bad for keeping rubber on the tarmac. Chrysler 300 and premium European sedans favor a RWD configuration, while most of Impala's direct competitors use FWD.
The next Impala sedan will be built on the same Zeta rear-drive architecture as the 2009 Camaro. The Zeta platform will sport a longer wheelbase, shorter front and rear overhangs, and more passenger room. All this is in a package that is similar in length and width to the current Impala model. This platform, engineered by GM Australian subsidiary Holden, may also be used for an all-new Pontiac Grand Prix.
Moving Uptown A rear-drive Impala is a smart move for Chevy on many fronts. Most of all, it allows GM to increase the Impala's size, clearly distinguishing it from the all-new 2008 Malibu. This kind of differentiation is not seen in today's similarly priced and sized models. With Malibu getting bigger, Chevrolet product planners are considering an altogether upscale move for the next Impala (think Chrysler 300).
This would mean lower annual production, essentially handing over the midsize car volume to Malibu. This move upscale would support Impala's original 1950s positioning of being a "prestige car within the reach of the average American citizen."
The car pictured is a rendering based on one of two design directions under consideration for the 2010 Chevy Impala. Its emotional design is an exciting departure from the staid styling seen in the current generation, though the final decision on the new Impala's styling and upscale market positioning isn't expected until next year. The rendering sports the bold new corporate grille, which is also planned for the 2008 Malibu.
Broad Shoulders Front overhangs are short, and the wheels are pushed all the way to the car's corners, giving it an aggressive, well-planted stance. Rear bodywork reminiscent of a fastback gives it a coupe-like profile. This is meant to pay homage to the Impalas of the late 1960s.
The rear end is short and the trunk opening narrow to emphasize its broad shoulders. The interior is said to build on the extensive improvements in quality and appearance shown by the new Tahoe/Suburban. The passenger compartment will be larger than current models also.
The Verdict: In the midst of a turnaround, it seems GM is actually making some smart product-planning decisions across its divisions. The next generation Malibu, Impala, and Cam