Last week, we engaged in some speculation about the future of GM’s Oshawa, Ontario assembly plant, noting that the only two confirmed products the plant produces are 1) not necessarily high-volume models, and 2) are already going to be built elsewhere along with Oshawa. Today, on the occasion of the new 2014 Impala’s launch event in San Diego, GM told us one of the ways they’ll keep Oshawa humming for the next year or two: they’ll keep making the old W-Body Impala, but it will be sold to fleet buyers only. Specifically, we’re talking about rental cars.
The W-Body Impala’s design dates to the 2006 model year, but even at that time, it was a conservative, somewhat-dated design. Plus, the Impala’s 2006 update was mainly a re-body and re-done interior on a platform that traced its roots back to the W-Body’s genesis in 1988 (formerly known as the GM-10 models). The Impala is the last W-Body remaining (others throughout history were the Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Regal, Oldsmobile Intrigue, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, Chevrolet Lumina, and Chevrolet Monte Carlo).
In 2012, GM continued to sell a lot of Impalas (the old ones, naturally), but also sold most of them to fleet buyers. About 75 percent of the 169,351 Impalas that GM sold last year went to fleet buyers; GM hopes to reverse that number with the new Epsilon-based 2014 Impala so that three quarters of that car go to retail buyers.
But the problem is, the new Impala is a better car than the old one in almost every way, and contains more technology, more performance, better interior materials, a more premium design – and it will cost more.
Fleet buyers don’t care about those things, so expect to see another year of municipal governments, rental-car agencies, and companies with salespeople driving company cars opting for the fleet-only Impala. The old version will go by the name “Impala Limited” (which, in most circles, would imply a higher-spec model, rather than the recycled older model).
This is not the first time that GM continued production of an older model. The 2004 Malibu, homely as it was, was based on the Epsilon global midsize platform. Yet for two years, GM continued to sell the old N-Body-based Malibu, but renamed it the Chevrolet Classic. We’re not sure why they are keeping the Impala name on the old car, other than perhaps to reduce buyer confusion, but fleet buyers shouldn’t be confused about what it is that they’re buying. Why it’s not called Impala Classic, at least, rather than Impala Limited, is beyond me. And it remains to be see what impact this move might have on the launch of the new Impala. The old one was a strong seller, thanks largely to fleet sales. The new, more expensive car is better, but will lack some of the charming simplicity of the old car.