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GM sees new Impala appealing more to buyers than renters

The grill emblem on the 2007 Chevrolet Impala during the Chicago Auto Show, February 7, 2007. REUTERS/John Gress
The grill emblem on the 2007 Chevrolet Impala during the Chicago Auto Show, February 7, 2007. REUTERS/John Gress

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co expects the new version of the Chevrolet Impala to lure more retail buyers, allowing the automaker to ditch the large car's image as king of the car rentals, a top company official said on Monday.

"We see the mix shift going from about 70 percent fleet and 30 retail, really turning that around, becoming 70 percent retail," Don Johnson, Chevrolet vice president of sales, told reporters at the company's assembly plant in Detroit-Hamtramck, where the Impala is built. Fleet customers include car rental companies.

Jim Hall, managing director of automotive consulting firm 2953 Analytics, said the key to GM achieving its goals is making sure consumers know about the new car, and that means spending the money to advertise it.

"When was the last time you saw an Impala commercial?' he said. "When you market a car, you keep the public interested in it. The longer you keep the intensity on marketing the car the more retail you're going to get."

"This is a segment that demands marketing intensity as far as paying attention to it," Hall added. "You've got to keep it in consumers' minds."

Johnson said GM sees Impala's U.S. sales rising from last year's total of about 169,350, while also increasing the large-car segment's overall reach and GM's share of that. Sales growth will come largely from consumers moving up from the mid-sized car segment, followed by crossovers and near luxury.

GM officials said the new 2014 Impala, which competes with the Ford Taurus and Toyota <7203.T> Avalon, will attract younger, more male, more affluent, more educated buyers than the current model, helping drive down the average age for the nameplate, which currently is in the upper 50s.

Johnson said the portion of new Impalas sold on lease is also expected to jump to the segment average of about 35 percent from its current rate of almost none.

He doesn't see Chevy's push to make Impala more attractive to consumers cutting into Cadillac sales. The new Impala is larger and longer than the current version.

GM's first Impala TV commercial ran on opening day of the Major League Baseball season on March 31, but the full marketing campaign will hit in mid-May, officials said.

Chevy will continue to sell the current version of the Impala, the Limited, as long as the demand is there, but it will be sold only to fleet customers, largely rental car companies, Johnson said.

Impala is also assembled at GM's Oshawa plant in Ontario, Canada. The new model is built on the global epsilon platform, which also is used for the Buick Regal and LaCrosse, Cadillac XTS and Chevy Malibu cars.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Chris Reese)

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