The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, which debuts this week at auto shows in Shanghai and New York will have Camaro-style looks, a bigger interior and higher fuel economy when it hits the road in the first quarter of 2012.
"It represents the post-bankruptcy future of Chevrolet," said Rebecca Lindland of consultant IHS Automotive. "It's the next step."
The new Malibu replaces an acclaimed midsize sedan that reinvigorated Chevrolet car sales and helped the brand compete with best-sellers like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Chevy now wants to expand the sedan's appeal to more than 100 countries around the world.
In the U.S., General Motors expects the new Malibu to outsell the previous model, which notched 198,770 deliveries in 2010. It was GM's best-selling car in the U.S.
The 2013 Malibu is half an inch shorter than the current model. It's wider, though, with 4 extra cubic feet of passenger room and 1 more cubic foot of luggage space. Shoulder and hip room increase, but rear legroom shrinks.
"The car's interior is very impressive," said Jim Hall, managing director of consultant 2953 Analytics. "Rear legroom doesn't tend to be a make-or-break factor for midsize sedans." The two-tone interior of the car Chevrolet showed journalists featured soft materials, rich colors and many new features.
The exterior design borrows from the roofline, rear fenders and taillights of the Camaro, one of the Chevrolet models that's recognized and liked around the world.
The Malibu will offer a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The new engine produces 190 horsepower, 180 pound-feet of torque and will have better acceleration and fuel economy than the current Malibu's 2.4-liter engine, chief engineer Mark Moussa said.
Chevy dropped the previous model's V6. The midsize-sedan market is increasingly dominated by four-cylinder engines. Chevy will sell a diesel Malibu in some markets, but there's no plan for that in the U.S.
The most fuel-efficient Malibu sold here will get better than 35 m.p.g. on the highway, Moussa said. Chevrolet will reveal details of that model at the New York auto show Wednesday. It may use a version of the eAssist powertrain that delivers 37 mpg in the bigger Buick LaCrosse sedan.
GM added a second U.S. assembly site for the 2013 Malibu, refitting its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant -- home of the Chevy Volt -- to supplement Malibu production in Fairfax, Missouri.
"Chevrolet needs to pull in new buyers," Lindland said. "The Malibu is in an incredibly competitive segment with the Accord and Camry, but it has an opportunity. Consumers who had bought SUVs are reconsidering midsize sedans because of fuel economy. Fuel economy has become a strength of Chevrolet's recently with the Cruze."
GM will also build the new Malibu in China. In South Korea, the Malibu will spearhead Chevrolet's replacement of the Daewoo brand GM bought several years ago.
The average buyer won't care that Chevrolet sells the same midsize sedan all over the world, but they will benefit from the Malibu's global footprint, said Russ Clark, Chevrolet director of car marketing.
By building and selling the car around the world, Chevrolet could afford to equip it with advanced features like lane-departure warning, forward collision alert, a rearview camera and 10 air bags.
"It's more value for the customer," Clark said. "The new Malibu has technology from around the world."
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