* Hopes redesigned Impala will lure higher-margin business
* More than half Impala sales last year were fleet
By Deepa Seetharaman
NEW YORK, April 4 (Reuters) - General Motors Co is hoping a redesign of the Chevrolet Impala will upend the car’s reputation as a rental-lot staple and catch the eye of more retail customers.
The Impala, one of the top sellers among Chevrolet cars, generated more than half of its sales last year from fleet customers, mainly rental agencies. But the company says the 2014 model, with a quieter ride and cushy interior, will attract more buyers.
“The current Impala is much more of a fleet vehicle than it is retail,” Chris Perry, head of global Chevrolet marketing, said last week at an event ahead of the New York Auto Show. “There’s no hiding that fact.”
Fleet customers, such as rental car agencies, tend to buy vehicles at a discount. Sales to them are therefore less profitable than those to consumers.
The new Impala will change the customer mix, Perry said.
“Maybe they’re not going to sell as many of these Impalas, but the margins are going to be better,” said AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan.
GM sold slightly more than 171,000 Impala cars last year, about the same as in 2010. The segment that includes that brand, as well as Ford Motor Co’s Taurus and Toyota Motor Corp’s Avalon, grew 3.3 percent.
The redesign of the Impala, a nameplate that has been around since the late 1950s, was delayed during the No. 1 U.S. automaker’s U.S. government-funded bankruptcy restructuring in 2009. Over the next three years, GM will introduce a slew of revamped models.
GM will unveil the new Impala at the auto show on Wednesday. Production begins early next year, and the car will hit showrooms in the first half of 2013.