By Andrew Ganz
Thursday, Dec 6th, 2012 @ 9:20 am
 

General Motors' CEO says that the automaker has has decided to fast-track the standard mid-cycle refresh for its Chevrolet Malibu to late next year, about 12 months earlier than initially planned.

Media and buyer response to the latest Malibu, a thoroughly redesigned four-door midsize sedan that went on sale earlier this year, has been more tepid than GM hoped.

Sales are up about 4 percent this year overall, which isn't terrible news but is off of the pace set by the midsize sedan segment overall.

But GM doesn't break out standard retail and less-profitable fleet sales by individual model line and dealers were well-stocked with the previous 2012 model until about September. With the heavily discounted previous generation 2012 model essentially eradicated from inventories last month, Malibu sales dipped less than 1 percent and they were off about 3 percent in September and October.

CEO Dan Akerson told Automotive News that the likely 2014 model year refresh will be a "mid-cycle enhancement, not dramatic, by this time next year."

The chief executive kept his lips sealed about most of the refreshed Malibu aside from acknowledging that it will receive new front and rear fascias. Typically, GM waits about three model years before introducing a refreshed model, so this refresh essentially moves the automaker's timeline up about 12 months.

Reviewers including Leftlane have criticized the Malibu for its bland styling and tepid performance, although its interior refinement and quietness have generally been praised. But in the increasingly cutthroat midsize sedan segment, automakers are learning that their cars need to stand out from the crowd in order to succeed.

Akerson himself didn't exactly give the Malibu glowing praise in his interview with Automotive News.

"I think it's a good car. It'll do OK," Akerson said. "It is a tough segment and it's one we need to be successful in. We'll see how it plays out."

In addition, GM's odd choice of staggering the Malibu's powertrain launch could have cost it some sales. The first model to go on sale was pricey, but highly efficient Malibu Eco, which uses a mild hybrid system to achieve an EPA-rated 37 mpg on the highway. The roughly $3,000 less expensive, higher volume Malibu powered by a conventional 2.5-liter four-cylinder went on sale several months after the Eco.

GM's quick move to refresh the Malibu follows in the footsteps of Honda, which took an unprecedented step of acknowledging unfavorable critical response to its latest Civic. Honda refreshed the 2013 Civic's exterior, refined its suspension and upgraded its interior just one model year after the redesigned 2012 went on sale.