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With production of Chevy Malibu ending, era ends for Detroit sedans

USA TODAY
                                A Chevy Malibu in 2019 in Detroit.
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USA TODAY

A Chevy Malibu in 2019 in Detroit.

DETROIT >> In another case of Detroit automakers surrendering car sales to foreign competition, General Motors Co. this fall will retire its last mainstream gas-powered sedan when production of the Chevrolet Malibu ends after nine generations.

The Detroit automaker confirmed today it will stop producing the mid-size sedan in November at its Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas to prep for assembly of the new Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle. Production of the Cadillac XT4 small SUV will continue until the plant is shut down next year to retool for production of the Bolt.

The decision to end the Malibu after more than 10 million units in global sales doesn’t come as a surprise because domestic automakers started paring them from their lineups starting in the mid-2010s to focus on more profitable SUVs. Ford Motor Co.’s Fiesta, Focus and Taurus, Stellantis NV’s Dodge Dart and Charger, as well as GM’s Cruze and Impala, are among the cars killed by the Detroit Three — ceding the sedan market to foreign competitors that continue to show there’s still a market for cars.

“Frankly, it’s probably surprising that it’s still in production now, and that’s probably only because they sell a lot of them to rental fleets,” said Sam Abuelsamid, e-mobility analyst for market research firm Guidehouse Inc. “It’s not terribly shocking that it’s going away. Other non-U.S. brands, non-Detroit brands are still sticking with sedans, they’re still making them and still selling quite a lot of them.”

GM previously said it would invest about $390 million in Fairfax to make the new Bolt, which will be based on GM’s new, more flexible Ultium-based EV architecture. The previous generation Bolt, built at GM’s Orion Assembly plant in Lake Orion, was not based on Ultium. Production of that Bolt ended in December 2023.

“To facilitate the installation of tooling and other plant modifications, after nine generations and over 10 million global sales, GM will end production of the Chevrolet Malibu in November 2024 and pause production of the Cadillac XT4 after January 2025,” GM spokesperson Kevin Kelly said in a statement.

Kelly said the production pause “will result in a layoff until production resumes for affected employees. Affected employees will be supported according to the provisions of the UAW-GM agreement. When production resumes in late 2025, Fairfax will produce both the Bolt EV and XT4 on the same assembly line, which gives GM flexibility to respond to changes in customer demand.”

“Ending Malibu production is a function of GM refocusing resources on better-selling, more relevant offerings while continuing capital-intensive future technologies — particularly electrification,” said Paul Waatti, director of industry analysis for AutoPacific, a marketing research and consulting firm.

Chevrolet introduced the Malibu in 1964 after it was first a trim offer on the Chevy Chevelle. The bowtie brand briefly discontinued the sedan from 1983 until 1997, according to Motor Trend.

The Malibu’s midsize car segment in 1996 represented 18% of the market and then started to slide year after year until the U.S. recession began to hit in 2007 and consumers downsized their vehicles. By 2012, the segment made up 16% of the market. And in 2023 it totaled 5.79%.

“The midsize sedan was it for so long,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of industry insights at Edmunds.com Inc. Then crossovers arrived, and “that sort of was the writing on the wall for a lot of midsize sedans, and cars in general, as well, just the popularity of the crossovers.”

Some cars have had a bit of resurgence because of the recent need for more affordable vehicles. But a Malibu priced starting at $25,100, Caldwell added, isn’t “really in that category of cars that are doing well.”

GM sold 130,342 Malibus in 2023, down from 210,951 sold in 2012 and 223,703 sold in 1998, according to Edmunds data dating back to 1996.

Malibu competitors like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord reported higher sales in 2023. Honda sold 197,947 Accords and Toyota sold 290,649 Camrys, according to company sales reports. In 2023, the Malibu had 14.5% of the segment behind the Camry’s 28% and the Accord’s 17%.

“Malibu just never reached that level where it was a very mainstream popular car that a lot of people owned,” Caldwell said.

The ongoing market shift toward SUVs prompted both Ford and G M in 2018 to announce plans to trim sedans from lineups. That followed the decision in 2016 by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV leadership to ax most sedan models.

GM ended production of the Buick Verano in 2016 and the Chevrolet SS in 2017. In 2019, GM halted production of the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Volt and Cruze followed by the Cadillac CT6, Buick Regal, and the Chevrolet Impala, Sonic and Spark.

GM most recently halted production of the Chevrolet Camaro late last year, though the sporty sedan is expected to make a comeback. The automaker still sells the Corvette high-performance vehicle and the Cadillac CT4 and CT5 sedans.

Between 2018 and 2020, Ford stopped selling several sedans in the United States, including the Taurus, Fiesta, the C-Max hatchback and the Fusion. U.S. production of the Focus ended in May 2018 and Ford has said Focus production globally will end by next year. The only sedan Ford currently sells in the United States is the Mustang.

After its 2016 announcement, Stellantis, then Fiat Chrysler, ended production of the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200. Production of the Chrysler 300, Dodge Challenger and Charger ended in December 2023. Dodge Viper production ended in 2017.

Stellantis, which is still selling old inventory of the Challenger, Charger and 300, isn’t done with its sedans. The automaker will launch an electric Charger midway through 2024. The automaker hasn’t defined its plans for the Challenger and 300, but executives have suggested that those vehicles may not disappear forever.

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