• Apr 19th 2011 at 2:00PM
  • 491
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu (GM).
It quietly galls Detroit auto industry executives that Toyota and Honda have had the best selling family sedans in the U.S. since the 1990s. The last U.S. car to hold the title was the Ford Taurus in 1996.

Can Detroit, fresh off two bankruptcies at GM and Chrysler, come up with a design that can recapture the hearts and wallets of American families? Reclaim the title?

The answers are: maybe and eventually. The first of Detroit's best shots at knocking off the Toyota Camry as number-one passenger car sold in America is the 2013 Chevy Malibu. The second is the next design of the Ford Fusion, which is believed to be coming in 2012 some time after the Malibu hits showrooms in spring of next year.

So, let's focus on the Malibu. What's it got? A far better looking design and interior than the current Malibu, which is no dog by any means -- having earned North American Car of the Year from a jury of 50 journalists in its debut year of 2007.

The Malibu sold 175,599 units last year. That's a long way from knocking off the Toyota Camry, which sold 327,804, or the Honda Accord, which sold 311,381. The Nissan Altima sold 229,263 and the Fusion sold 219,219. But the new car shows plenty of potential to climb the ladder of popularity.

While most mid-sized sedans get bigger from one design cycle to the next, the Malibu has gotten a bit smaller. That's because Chevy wants to put some size and distance between the new Malibu and the upcoming Impala sedan. The slightly smaller size is most felt in the backseat where leg room is a smidge tight, but hip and shoulder room has been augmented -- no doubt to accommodate American's broadening waistlines. We tend not to put fat in our lower legs. The other reason to keep the car from getting too big is that GM wants the Malibu to be a "world car," and if it gets to big, it won't do well in countries like India, or even in Europe.
Is the Toyota Camry ready to lose its title as top selling car in America?
Yes 14858 (61.8%)
No 9191 (38.2%)

Bryan Nesbitt, General Motors exterior design director, says the Malibu was redesigned for someone, or a couple, who wants "some style and sportiness in their mid-sized sedan." Indeed, the tail-lights and a few other styling touches were inspired by the new Chevy Camaro.

While the changes should boost Malibu sales, it could hold the car back from toppling Camry for a while. The recent history of the mid-sized "family sedan" category is that "bland" sells. The former head of Toyota in the U.S., James Press, was often heard, while defending the plain styling of the Camry, to say, "Just remember...vanilla is the top selling flavor of ice cream in the world."

There is a trend in this category of eliminating 6 cylinder engines in favor of better performing and more fuel efficient four-cylinder engines. The Malibu has joined Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima in that strategy. The 2.5 liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine will produce more than 190 horsepower, plenty for this kind of car.

Believe it or not, the mid-sized "family" sedan is a hot segment. Detroit used to get much more excited about the launches of trucks and SUVs with big auto show celebrations, and leave family car launches for the equivalent of the backyard party with the balloon-tying guy.

No more. Not only is the Malibu key for GM and Chevy capturing car owners trading out of SUVs, but it has global importance as the company tries to sell it in over 100 countries. GM is especially hoping for a big splash in China where it introduced the car this week at the Shanghai Auto Show.

Malibu competitors Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and VW Passat (Toyota, Hyundai, VW).

So what is happening with Malibu's competition? There is plenty more on the way. The new Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are already out, and will probably getting improvements next year when the Malibu arrives. An all new Toyota Camry is expected to arrive this Fall, though Toyota has not shown it to the media yet. And Volkswagen, never a real threat in this segment, is launching an all-new less-expensive Passat sedan later this year. VW has built a new Tennessee factory dedicated to mid-sized vehicles, with the Passat as the first entry. "We are very serious about competing in this category like we never have before," said VW of America President Jonathan Browning at this week's media preview at the New York International Auto Show.

But Toyota's leadership position is not set in stone. The company has endured 18 months of bad publicity over more than ten million recalled vehicles, including the Camry, and fines by the U.S. government for not being forthcoming about quality and safety problems it knew about. And despite its top-selling status last year, the Camry's interior today is sub-par, and outclassed by even the Kia Optima.

Toyota could also have production delays and eventual shortages due to the damaged parts factories in Japan resulting from last month's Earthquake and tsunami.

All of that spells opportunity for Malibu to climb the sales ladder with U.S. car buyers. But it will also have plenty of company on the rungs trying to shake Toyota off the top.

See more photos and information about the 2013 Malibu at Autoblog.

View Gallery: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu

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    • 1 Second Ago
      john and donna
      • 4 Years Ago
      True Americans should support American Co. Never mine what the other people that say it doesent matter, because it does matter. Let the other so called Americans buy the imports. We will know where they stand.
      PAMELA S
      • 4 Years Ago
      The Toyota Camry will Kill you! It SHOULD BE LABELED AS THE KILLER CAR! I have an idiot relative that leased one for three years. She was told because her credit was so good, they would lease her one. What a joke, you only lease if you have questionable credit. Toyota, Cincinnati,Ohio has laughed all the way to the bank at the poor idiot. That is just another ploy Toyota engages in, because of it's low lousy market share, now because of killing people, etc.. LISTEN UP TOYOTA, YOU ARE BEING SUED BY MANY THAT WERE INJURED, DIED, WENT TO PRISON. BECAUSE OF YOUR MAL FUNCTIONING, ENDANGERING CARS. YOU WILL NEVER BE WHERE YOU SEEK TO GO AGAIN, THAT IS ON TOP........YOU WILL NEVER BE THERE AGAIN! With one critique toward GM's volt....Bring your price down from $32,000, to around $20,000 to then get a $8,000 tax credit. You will then make sales........ Lastly, America better start buying American again and pull this country out of the sewer it is in. Thank you PAMELA S.
      • 4 Years Ago
      We just bought a new chevy malibu. We pick it up Sat. we picked it out after a lot of test driving & deliberation. first & formost because of the ratings on it for safety & other things, the gas milage, the fact that it is 65% American made played a significant role too. My husband is a fairly big man & considers it quite comfortable to drive, compared to our daughters Sentra. we did our research & are looking forward to many trips in our malibu
      • 4 Years Ago
      C'mon, there will never be another car to replace the Toyota Camry. Been driving mine since 1998, and it's been the most dependable and economical vehicle I've ever owned. Maybe some of the newest models leave a little to be desired, but they will never build a car that compares to the 1998 Camry. 'nough said..
      • 4 Years Ago
      Go Ford! ! ! ! ! ! Why buy a car from the US government or from Chrysler which is now a foreign corporation. Ford did not take any stimulus money..................... that makes them heros.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I am glad to hear that there is an American alternative because the reason that I have kept my old car is that I refuse to by one that isn't made here at home. I will be checking out the both the Malibu and the Fusion when they come out.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Chevy is just one step above Ford which is at the bottom of the pile folks. Neither will ever rest in my driveway as long as I live. We need new companies that can actually compete with the foreign cars. That means no union. If you want high wages educate yourself to get them. Twenty-five dollars an hour to install door locks and windshield wipers just can't be tolerated anymore in America. Give me a car that will last and sell it to me at a reasonable price and I will buy it. Other than that they can just rust on the lot for all I care.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Gee.....................why would I want to buy a an Obama Chevy.........and I don't need a Toyota or Honda, Guess I will have to suffer with the wheels I have now........................and besides when Obama and the Chicago Gang get done with us...........................not enough people are going to be able to buy this cheap **** anyway!!!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      The biggest sleeping giant is Hyundai. Hyundai have improved significantly and have just recently entered the luxury market with EQUUS with reasonable price and offers best warrenty to the American market with 10 Years/100K. Currency of Korean Won have been very stable and Koreans have made giant leaps as far as quality and customer service. Japanese Yen have been very volatile and rise significantly which makes Lexus extrordinary expensive many Lexus are made in Canada to take advantage of NAFTA. Japanese and Korean are very smart business people and they are offering what the consumer needs--Great product, Good Value, and Superb Service (above and beyond) of what a typical customer expect. Remember the surly American car salesman of the past and having to haggle to death? We lost the business and it is nearly impossible to get it back--our airlines is a great example. I am not racist and I wish all US airlines runs like Hawaiian Airlines and Virgin America..We can do it but won't.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I will never buy a GM or Chrysler product.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I own a Fusion Sport and if you could test drive them all the Fusion would be on top.
      • 4 Years Ago
      sorry,i have bought 2 hyundai's.a 2001 elantra and a 2009 sonata limited. my 2001 had the same battery from when i bought it to when i sold it at 109k.only one set of tires.was hit 3 times from behind and only slight damage.unfortunatly i lost a neck injury case over that.the jury did not believe i could have gotten hurt as bad as i did with such little car damage.id di get hurt,bad neck injury! love my limited.it is roomy and when i drive 1000 miles to my daughter's home,it is very comfortable. i will continue to buy hyundai products becasue they last and have great warranties.
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