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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
      • 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
      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
      It's the same old story,the fish stinks from the head down.GM could build a nice looking retro-style car,instead of the ugly Camero(that's suppose to look like the 60's,70's Camero?),and sell the hell out of it(ex.57 Chevy,which everyone likes).Every car today looks the same Camry,impala,Taurus,Optima,etc.,etc. Use your head GM,Ford,and Chrysler,we don't need all the gadgets and options. Make it simple,like the Mazda Miata,there's a great no nonsense car that's reliable. But you know it's like talking to a cardboard box and they can't make that here,either!
      • 4 Years Ago
      toyota-- bye bye.........it's about time americans buy american and quit shipping trillions of dollars to asia......this free trade experiment has nearly bankrupted us..............
      • 4 Years Ago
      GM are the buttholes that put lead in gas intentionally
      • 4 Years Ago
      They all look so much alike,You could switch the names and not know the differance.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This article was written for nothing more than an atttempt to boost GM sales to make Obozo look good for the bailouts. They should have let GM go bankrupt.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The Malibu has a horrifying ride, spine busting bucket seats and loud sea-shell at a sea-shore road noise. Chevy's legendary electric problems, choke-on-demand AC units, and weak transmission ratio numbers are all still here. Chevy might stay afloat with the redesigned camaro in the pony wars with Ford, but neither company has what it takes to take down the Japanese reliability. But, otherwise, that subsidiary needs to go by the way of the demised Pontiac brand. GM may still have some life with their Buick and Caddy lineups, but only barely. Dodge is still hanging on to dear life because of their trucks, and Chrysler needs to throw in the towel already.
      • 4 Years Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Lincoln was just named the best car for first three years ....Lexus had that for a long time but they are actually third now behind Jaguar...
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yes. The reason the Japanese cars sell so well can be attributed to the dumbing down of America. How many foreign car owners have any idea or care what a foreign trade deficit is? Or what a fair trading partner is? Just keep complaining about how bad the economy is, and at the same time sending all the profits from that foreign car overseas. They need the jobs over there. We are getting our clock cleaned by other countries who are in this to win. And with the help of the idiots that drink their Kool-Aid, they are winning.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I would love any company to bump off Toyota as a best seller. They are nothing but murderers. They knew that there were major problems with their cars but let people die while they made believe that nothing was wrong. Disgusting. The amazing thing is that people are still buying their cars. I have never been a Toyota fan. I leased a 1999 Camry and couldn't wait for the lease to be over I hated that car. The steering was loose and the car handled like a sofabed. I drove a 2009 Camry as a loaner car and it was no better. However, if you don't die in a Camry, it will probably be reliable. American cars are just awful, poorly made pieces of junk. The only possible exception is Ford. But why buy one. The resale on these cars is terrible. What to do? BUY A HONDA.
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