Road Trip Outtake: Cut From The Same Cloth As Well As The Same Pattern – The Last Of Their Kind?

Returning to the trail head parking lot after one of our many splendiferous hikes in Joshua Tree NP, I saw these two and thought: Wow; two identical white Impala rental cars, side-by-side”  Yes, the national parks are full of rentals, and many of them cars I never see on the streets at home, such as Sonic sedans, or current Impalas. But as I got closer to them, it suddenly became obvious that their rear-most side windows were not quite identical. What… Oh; that’s not an Impala in front. But it sure looks cut from the same cloth and pattern, except for one size smaller.

Now there’s a way to save on design costs: Shrink that one by 4%, and make that rear window and a few other details a wee bit different and you’re good to go. Somehow I don’t see that happening during Bill Mitchell’s time. But then there’s no future in sedans for GM anyway, so why bother spending money on differentiated designs?

These two may well be the last Impala and Malibu, unless the enamels are resurrected on a truck or CUV. The Impala is as good as dead, and although no specific rumors have been dropped about the Malibu, given that Chrysler (brilliantly) ditched their two sednas a couple of years ago, and Ford has as much as said that the current Fusion won’t be replaced (the Taurus is already a dead bull walking), I’m betting Chevy will go the same way. There’ll be a Bolt and Volt and maybe Spark or two, but the game is up for American mid-large sedans.

Meanwhile the Japanese are doubling doubling down with all-new Camcordias. They have the commitment, the buyers and the volume, which is essential to make sedans profitable. Once GM and Ford decided to reduce fleet sales, there wasn’t really much of a retail market left for sedans. It’s just not a profitable sector anymore, without the proper scale. They’ve become expendable commodities.

And to those that say: “but just wait until the next time oil and gas go up…” No problem, anymore. Detroit (and other players in the market) have in their words “cracked the code” in terms of mileage. Full size pickups are about to crash through the 30 mpg (hwy) barrier, and CUVs are also now getting the same EPA numbers that sedans did just a few years back. Hybrid and EV versions are inevitably going to become more common.

Although this chart doesn’t full capture the shift away from sedans to CUVs and more trucks, the strong growth in economy since about 2005 is a reflection of what detroit means about ‘cracking the code”. Lighter weight, better aerodynamics, multi-speed transmissions and so many other constantly improving complements and details are allowing even larger vehicles to keep overall fleet mileage improving or at least not stagnating.