No matter how positive its review was in Consumer Reports, no matter how attractive its front end, GM insisted they weren’t going to chase fleet sales. Moreover, the car’s more upmarket positioning and the slow death of its category weren’t going to produce improved sales.
Perhaps what some didn’t realize, however, was that the Impala’s decline was long since underway.
In 2007, when the U.S. auto market was last clicking along at the rate it is now, General Motors sold more than 300,000 Impalas. As the market crashed two years later, falling 35% compared with 2007, 2009 sales of the Impala had fallen 47%. A slight improvement in 2010 was followed up by consecutive declines in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
After averaging more than 278,000 annual U.S. Impala sales between 2003 and 2007, the Impala has averaged fewer than 165,000 annual U.S. sales (including an estimate for 151,000 sales in 2014) since 2010.
We’re quick to point to the loss of numerous brands to help explain much of GM’s lost market share over the last decade. 27.5% of the new vehicles sold in 2004 were GM products; GM’s market share through the first seven months of 2014 is down to 17.8%. (GM’s four current brands owned 22.9% of the U.S. market in 2004.)
16.8% of the GM vehicles sold in 2004 were Hummers, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, Saturns, and Saabs. Of the 3.78 million vehicles sold by GM in 2004 by brands that still exist today, 7.7% were Impalas.
Only 5.1% of the new vehicles sold by GM this year have been Impalas. Is the loss of nearly 783,000 Hummer, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Saab sales meaningful? Undoubtedly, that loss is significant, at least from a strictly volume perspective, if not a profit-centric one.
Also significant: the loss of 140,000 Impala sales.
Yet what can GM do when they build a vastly improved car and send that car into a gauntlet that’s choking off the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, and Toyota Avalon, all of which have seen their sales decline on a year-over-year basis in 2014?
Chrysler sold more than 120,000 300s in 2007 and will struggle to crest the 50K barrier in 2014. Taurus sales climbed to a seven-year high in 2013, but 70,000 total sales is about the max for 2014. Hyundai won’t likely sell much more than 9000 Azeras in 2014, having sold 21,948 in pre-Genesis 2007. Toyota averaged nearly 86,000 annual Avalon sales in the three-year period ending in 2007 but the Avalon isn’t likely to top 70,000 in 2014.
The Impala is suffering from a contagious disease, one that’s long been making its way through the whole category. In 2012 PR parlance, it’s gone viral. Consumers want their upmarket cars to wear upmarket badges. They may also not want their upmarket cars to actually be cars.
So does GM’s car division look to the Malibu for solace? In some ways, yes. Chevrolet has sold more than 200,000 Malibus in each of the last three years, having not previously done so since 2005. Malibu volume is down 5% in 2014.
In 2013, Chevrolet compact car volume (248,224 Cruzes) climbed to the highest level since 2003, when 256,550 Cavaliers were sold. Cruze sales are up 4.5% in 2014, although they’ve tumbled in each of the last two months after surging in May. Never were more than 68,085 Aveos sold in a single calendar year, but Chevrolet sold 85,646 Sonics in 2013. Sonic sales are up 11.5% in 2014 in a subcompact category that’s risen less than 3%.
GM would presumably prefer to sell 300,000 Impalas with or without a Sonic increase. But those days are gone.