Why does the Impala exist?

It’s freshly 2011 as I write this, and the Impala’s replacement has been pushed back to 2014. 2014! By then we’ll have flying cars and iPhones that translate dog barks into words. I’ll be 32 years old, Hopefully by then they’ll invent a pill that lets my hair grow back.

Today’s Impala, at least with its existing sheet metal, came out back in 2006. It was George Bush’s second term, Iraq executed Saddam, the Nintendo Wii was in high demand, Google bought Youtube, and Pluto stopped being a planet. Economically, we were on cruise control, clueless to the real estate collapse around the corner.

GM wasn’t even thinking about bankruptcy back then, and The General’s product renaissance under the leadership of Bob Lutz was well underway. Kia and Hyundai were only a blip, building transportation appliances for poor people and meth addicts.

Gas prices in excess of $3 were putting in a dent in sales of large SUVs, and the 29mpg Impala was ready to swoop in and capture families downsizing out of their Tahoes for full size sedans. Impala was more modern than the Ford Crown Victoria (which is still being built), and GM was, at least operationally, making a profit on the sales of cars and trucks.

The 5.3L V8 Impala SS disappeared a couple years ago, leaving us with two dull but dependable V6 engines. GM is ending production of the 3.5 and 3.9 and mating the 3.6VVT to the same old but smooth and reliable 4-speed Hydramatic from 1997. With this combination, the Impala should see fuel economy in the high 20s with 280hp.


Impala being Impala-ish.

The Impala is a mule — it’s not something anyone dreams of owning but its durable enough to do work. Reading about the Impala is about as interesting doing income taxes, so I have to ask, are you a fleet manager for a police department? A purchasing agent for Dollar Rentacar? An octogenarian? One of those weirdos who buys flashing red lights and pulls people over to pretend to be a cop?

Maybe you’re the kind of person who collects stamps and has 30 cats, so you’re into this kind of thing and a brand new white Impala with an FM radio is your idea of excitement, which is the only reason why anyone would read this article.

I suppose I’m equally culpable for writing about it.

The Impala’s sales figures have been VERY healthy since it arrived in 2000, but much of it was bolstered by fleet orders. GM managed to push out more than 289,000 of these cars in 2006.

You’re thinking, “Okay, so what? That’s still a sale for GM! We’re back on top! Get a brain, morans!

Fleet cars are sold with major volume discounts, and they typically come with fewer options than a yellow school bus. GM sold Impalas to Enterprise that came without curtain airbags. There wasn’t anything illegal or shady about it since Enterprise ordered them that way, but it exacerbated a perception problem, that GM stood for “Generic Motors” and only built piles of junk on four wheels to the lowest bidder.

Retail buyers typically buy Impalas as used cars because of their brutally low resale value. Enterprise dumps them on the lot as deeply discounted and fairly abused ex-rentals, and young families swoop them up for dependable if completely dull transportation. If you looked up “car” in the encyclopedia, you’d see a picture of an Impala.

This means that despite being the third best selling car in America (as of 2006), GM only makes a meager profit on each car. Retail sales of Impalas come with massive incentives, which eat into resale value and damage the Impala’s historic name.

However, it costs GM next to nothing to build them. The W-body architecture dates back to 1988. CEO Roger Smith spent the 1980s modernizing GM’s manufacturing operations with robots and computers at the expense of quality and at higher costs. Union workers sabotaged machines and the machines themselves were flawed, known famously for painting each other rather than painting cars.

As a result, W-body cars were sold at a $2000 per unit loss and GM was spiraling dangerously close to bankruptcy by 1992.

The platform was modernized and stretched in 2004 but the Impala is the only W-body left in production. Lacrosse, Grand Prix, and Monte Carlo have either been discontinued to moved on to more modern platforms.

The Impala SS, however, is legendary.





But that’s the past.

Exacerbating the problem was GM’s own 2008 Malibu, a new car on GM’s modern Epsilon platform. With similar interior space, higher build quality, respectable handling, and reasonable fuel economy (33mpg with Ecotec I4, 26mpg with 3.6VVT), the Malibu threatened to put an end to the Impala.

But it didn’t.

Rental and government fleets had more parts available for the Impala and it required no new training or equipment. Impalas cost less to build since the platform was engineered and paid for long ago, and could therefore be sold at lower prices. It soldiered on like Strom Thurmond, refusing to retire no matter how obsolete.

There’s something eerily Soviet about it.

Here’s a snippet from Chevy.com:

“Will probably exceed your expectations” is a bit of a backhanded compliment. Expectations for the Impala aren’t particularly high. Unfortunately, it seems to be the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about the car, so Chevrolet chose to share it as a selling point.

I feel like I’m being terribly unfair, so let me offer a little bit of praise.

Here’s a few good-ish things about the 2011 Impala:

–Front seat space

–Huge trunk



–Anonymous styling — Great for speeding. Great for drug dealers.

–Cheap! With discounts you can score one for more than 4 grand off the sticker price. If you buy used, you can pick one up in just a couple years for half of MSRP.

–Bench seat. I’m being genuine — bench seats are awesome. If you’ve never had a girl snuggle up next to you in the middle seat while you drive, then you probably hate America, you dirty infidel.

There, I did it. I said seven nice things about the Impala.

Look, its not bad a bad car at all. It really isn’t, but its woefully uncompetitive and long overdue for replacement. A new Caprice based on the Holden Commodore is supposed to be coming in 2012.

Brief Specs:

Front-wheel drive
3550 lbs
18/29 mpg
211hp, 216 lb-ft
Dimensions: Pretty darn big.
Details here.
Price:  $24k-32k

2 Responses to Why does the Impala exist?

  1. Matt says:

    The cops around here have a few Impalas, but I’ve never seen one actually be driven by a cop. They’re usually parked in a corner of one of the COPS stations up against a wall like the cops are trying to hide it out of embarrassment.

  2. jesda says:

    They use them here in the burbs and out in the county, but state patrol and federal fleets get CVs. The wealthiest suburbs, of course, use Chargers, which look menacing as hell when they’re behind you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *