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GM Looks to Back Off From Rentals


The focus at the 2012 New York Auto Show may be on the luxury market, with Ford showing the first step in its effort to remake Lincoln, but GM is using the event to fill gaps in its line-up.

After all, GM unveiled the new Cadillac ATS amid much fanfare at the Detroit Auto Show. Now, it is bringing in a new Impala, billed by Automotive News as a "bid to shake (its) rental car image," while Buick, which has also moved aggressively to reduce its reliance on rental car sales, has a new luxury crossover, the 2013 Enclave.

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The 2014 Impala "re-establishes this iconic Chevrolet nameplate as a design leader, with bold styling that will turn heads for years to come," said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America.

The car, which will go on sale in early 2013, marks the 10th generation of a vehicle that has been in the market for years and yet, in 2011, was the best-selling full-size sedan in the U.S. market with sales of 171,000 vehicles.


GM promises a model that is sleeker than its predecessor, with new exterior design, new interiors, direction injection engines, and a quieter ride with enhanced noise cancellation technology.

"Chevy aims to capture real retail market share with the new Impala," said TrueCar analyst Jesse Toprak. "The current version is focused predominantly on fleet and rental: The redesigned model is built from the ground up to be an appealing contender in the struggling large sedan segment."

"From what we see today, Impala offers to the most appealing interior in its category, which is a dramatic change for the model," Toprak said.

Meanwhile, Buick's new Enclave will replace a model that sold about 58,000 units in 2011. The new model continues Buick's effort to establish itself in the "beautiful" niche, which Tony DiSalle, the brand's U.S. vice president of marketing, said defines the effort to distinguish a brand that survives between the mass market and the luxury market even as similarly motivated Mercury has disappeared.

"We are luxury but traditional luxury is exclusive, while Buick is open and warm," he said. "We use the word beautiful a lot because Buick is more sculptured."

Of course, Buick is helped by its strong position in China, where it sold 645,537 vehicles in 2011 -- a number that shows how successfully a U.S. brand can establish itself in China, and is a big part of the reason for its survival.

In March, Buick's U.S. sales declined 16% to 13,105, but DiSalle noted that retail sales rose 6% and accounted for 96% of the total as Buick backs off from the rental car market. Fleet, now down to 4%, accounted for 20% of sales in the same month a year earlier. "We're not doing as much daily rental," DiSalle said. "That helps support residual values."

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