Not long ago, seemingly off-the-cuff comments by Mark Reuss, GM’s chief “car guy”, got everyone in a tizzy. Reuss lamented the lack of affordable station wagons on the market today, and suggested that GM ought to start offering one in the near future. The comments, of course, came at the Detroit Auto Show’s, and Reuss, who certainly has had ample media training, had nothing to lose by throwing a bone to the assembled enthusiast media, who are uniformly pro-wagon, no matter how poor of a business case the wagon in question may be.
From the way Reuss spoke, you’d think that GM hadn’t offered a proper affordable wagon since the last of the full-size B-Body wagons rolled off the line in 1995. It turns out there was one more that had escaped many people’s imagination. I can only assume that the Malibu Maxx had been collectively blotted out of our memories in the post-bankruptcy era. Like the Saturn Astra and L-Series, the Malibu Maxx was another ill-fated experiemnt in rebranding a European offering as something wholly American.
The Maxx was essentially an Opel Signum with a bowtie – the Signum being the hatch/pseudo-wagon variant of the Opel Vectra. In the run-up to its launch, the Signum was touted by the famously jingoistic UK motoring press as a new kind of “executive car” (their term for a near-luxury sedan). To nobody’s surprise, the Signum was a flop – fleet customers stuck with the sedan and families remained with the “estate” (what we’d consider a traditional wagon). The Signum died quietly after a few years on the market.
The Maxx never achieved a lot of traction in the North American marketplace either, despite the presence of a hot SS version offering a 3.9L 240 horsepower V6 engine. Compared to the current crop of GM wagons – whether it’s the Cruze, the Astra estate or the Commodore station wagon – the Maxx was a crude, odd-looking version of a rather uncompetitive mid-size car. Unfortunately, I am not sure that any of the three modern wagons would sell in greater quantities than the Maxx, even though they’re vastly superior.
Reuss may be a car guy at heart, but he also knows how to manipulate the media, and nothing gets the hacks going like talk of a new wagon. In the mean time, you can still buy a GM wagon. A Maxx will run you about $3,000, and you’re sure to be the only one on your block.