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Chevy's Impala replacement may not be rwd after all.

Tougher CAFE rules may alter GM plan

Rick Kranz - Automotive News - November 5, 2007

Just when you thought General Motors was giving up on the front-drive Chevrolet Impala for a high-powered, rear-drive sedan, the automaker has quietly developed a backup plan.

GM's new global mid-sized vehicle architecture has the building blocks to create an Impala-sized fwd sedan. It also can be used for cars shorter than the 2007 Chevrolet Malibu and Opel Vectra.

Such is the flexibility of the architecture. It will replace two vehicle platforms: the Epsilon mid-sized architecture used in the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6 cars, and the older W-body architecture for cars like the Impala and Buick LaCrosse.

"Some vehicles will border on large-car market segments," while others "will be the tightest, smallest mid-sized models," said Jim Federico, vehicle line executive for GM's mid-sized architecture.

The next-generation Opel and Vauxhall Vectra will be the first vehicles developed on the architecture, debuting in 2008. North America's first vehicles will be the next-generation Saturn Aura and Buick LaCrosse, arriving in 2009.

GM had been expected to replace the fwd Impala — its best-selling U.S. car — around 2010 with the rwd sedan, possibly called Impala. But GM's concerns about a possible steep increase in federal fuel-economy requirements may change those plans, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says. GM insiders say the rwd sedan would be bigger and likely heavier than today's Impala.

"The large rwd (Chevrolet) sedan is always on the bubble, depending on what the government does," Lutz says. "A lot of the product lineups are up in the air right now and very flexible."

Lutz said GM would like to have one fewer fwd sedan in the Chevrolet lineup because the Impala and the 2008 Malibu are too similar in size.

The question is whether the Chevrolet model developed on the global fwd mid-sized architecture — also for 2010 — will be a large Impala-sized sedan or a Malibu replacement.

"The way they are thinking, they are afraid to abandon the fwd Impala," said John Wolkonowicz, Global Insight's senior auto analyst for North America. "Of course, they should be — it is their best-selling automobile."

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