As is usually the case, concept models commanded most of the press coverage at the Detroit Auto Show. Attempting to share some of the spotlight were introductions of production cars, mostly derived from previously revealed concepts.
Leading the list of cars actually to hit dealer showrooms was the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu, which was making its "worldwide debut" and will be available locally later this year. Chevrolet says the new Malibu "has the size, features and powerful engine to compete in the midsize segment," which the Big Three have ignored lately.
Today, "midsize" means Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. This is a sector dominated for years by Ford's Taurus and Chevy's Impala and Monte Carlo. Ford recently announced it is bringing the Taurus back, and Chevrolet is beefing up the Malibu. It will be a fascinating race in this highly competitive segment.
"There is more style and content on the new Malibu than any other competitor in the segment," boasts Chevy General Manager Ed Peper. "When we set out to completely redesign Malibu, we focused on our customers, and our goal was to stun them and delight them with a car that looks like it's $40,000. But it isn't. Malibu delivers for a manufacturer's suggested retail price that starts around $20,000."
Car and Driver magazine has this to say: "Let's face it. No one was buying the Malibu for its styling. Dependable as the tides? Check. Inexpensive to buy and own? Check. Styled with the passion of a Frigidaire? Check. Fortunately, the Malibu shown in Detroit actually looks good enough to buy just based on its appearance.
"Inside, Chevrolet has made the jump to the 21st century. Materials, design and build quality are all much improved over the generic, bare-bones previous generation."
High praise. Here's more from Road & Track: "The 2008 Chevy Malibu's new shape looks more like that of a luxury sedan, while the stylish interior features curving dashboard sections for both driver and passenger, similar to Corvettes of old. The car's ride has been improved by lengthening the wheelbase 6 inches."
The 2008 Malibu also has an impressive list of available extras. They include an enormous sunroof 70 percent larger than before so folks in the rear can benefit, a remote vehicle starter, automatic climate control, cool storage facilities, and an in-dash storage compartment for sunglasses and CDs.
A roster of safety features includes the usual front and side air bags, front-seat-mounted thorax protection air bags, front safety-belt pretensioners, LATCH child safety seat anchors, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock braking system, traction control and tire-pressure monitoring system.
It appears Chevrolet is back in the car game.
George Spaulding is a retired General Motors executive and distinguished executive-in-residence emeritus at the School of Business and Economics at the College of Charleston.