Chevy Repositions Impala to Flip Sales Ratio

Revamped Marketing of Rental-Fleet Staple Is Aimed at 'Dynamic Leaders'

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Driven an Impala lately? Probably not, unless it was a rental.

Once America's best-selling car, the full-size sedan has mostly been relegated to auto-rental fleets, police departments and car services. About 70% of sales come from fleets, according to Chevrolet, while only 30% comes from individual buyers.

The marketing challenge for the General Motors brand and its ad agency, Commonwealth, Detroit, is to flip that sales ratio "completely around," said Chevrolet Senior Marketing Manager Rich Martinek.

"This car is very much a retail play for us," he said. To get there, Chevy will have to modernize the Impala's image to appeal to younger, more affluent consumers. The median age of Impala owners is early 60s, said a spokeswoman, noting that's "very consistent" with other large-car models.

The first step is the sexier, sleeker 2014 model hitting showrooms this month, which Mr. Martinek said is aimed at "dynamic leaders" -- or successful, college-educated professionals making more than $90,000 a year. Chevy expects sales to break down 60/40 among men and women.

Commonwealth recently rolled out under Chevy's "Find New Roads" campaign a spot called "Tuxedo Man": a suave Impala owner moves through his glamorous days and nights to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon."

Chevy, the official vehicle of Major League Baseball, is also borrowing interest around the start of the season and working with MLB to create a series of "Here's to Baseball" videos at

Launched in the 1958, the Impala eventually grew into America's best-selling vehicle. The Beach Boys wrote the song "409" about the big, powerful car and the Impala was one of the vehicles driven by "Bewitched's" Darrin Stephens in one of TV's earliest product-placement deals.

But the gas-guzzler fell on hard times in the 1970s and 1980s. GM discontinued the nameplate in 1985, brought it back in 1994 only to drop it again in 1996. Impala was resurrected in 2000.

Its best sales year in the last decade was 2004, according to Automotive News, when Impala raked in sales of 267,882 units. Last year, the brand sold 169,351 units. Chevrolet spent less than $700,000 on Impala advertising in 2012 vs. around $2.24 million the year before, according to Kantar Media.

Convincing younger, successful suburbanites that the car they know best as a rental or police cruiser should be at the top of their shopping list is "no easy task," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with auto consultancy

But she praised the baseball tie-up as a good fit. The Impala customer is "a very American kind of buyer," Mrs. Krebs said. "They still want the big car. ... It's certainly not your young, urban buyers."

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