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Question of the Weekend – Autos that are primarily for Fleets; Is it a bad thing?

Jim Brennan December 23, 2012 Hooniverse Asks, Weekend Edition 28 Comments

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This past week, General Motors announced that the current generation of the Chevrolet Impala (W Platform) will still be produced when its replacement is introduced (this spring 2013) right through the 2014 model year. This is not a new phenomena, as GM has done this in the past with many models including the fifth generation Chevrolet Malibu (renamed Malibu Classic for two years), The sixth generation of the Malibu (again, renamed Malibu Classic for one year), as well as the current Chevrolet Captiva Sport that is available only to fleets. Ford did something similar with the Crown Victoria in its final years of production. So, is this practice of producing fleet only vehicles helpful or harmful to the brand as a whole?

  • PotbellyJoe

    <img src="http://hubgarage.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/1270461/My_Aerostar_1997_detail.jpg"&gt;
    Not that it was the first time it ever happened, but I know the fleet group went bananas when Ford cancelled the Aerostar for the Windstar, forcing Ford to carry the Aerostar for a longer time than originally planned.

    There are cars that function extremely well for the needs of businesses, taxis and other uses that can meet zero demands of a mass-consumer.

    Utilitarian, indestructible vanilla doesn't always sell.

    I had a 1996 Ford Aerostar in my family's fleet and it was an amazing vehicle for road trips, moving to college, moving out after college, and towing. That being said, one person in the time that we had it ever said "cool car" and he was my calculus teacher that wore slip-on canvas shoes everyday.

    But if there is a market that can turn a few bucks and doesn't require new tools, or presses, why not make a few bucks?

    • rovingardener

      And the nifty bit is that development money can be put towards things that are "cool car"s. Even a big company like Ford can't do whatever it wants and produce Boss 302s whenever it seems like a good idea.

      • Joe Dunlap

        I agree wholeheartedly. If Hertz and Dollar and the rest are happy with acres of plain vanilla, and their money allows the manufacturers to produce more interesting cars for us hoons at a reasonable price, then indeed, keep the pipeline to them open. Flood those lots till they're stacked up like cordwood. 🙂

    • Sjalabais

      Is that the entire reasoning for keeping old models in production? It's interesting because it is borderline conservative: "We don't expect you to produce any alternative that works".

      I'm quite conservative myself when it comes to cars. Would love a brand new Hindustan Ambassador CNG in my garage…

  • Some fleet buyers might be flipping out over the discontinuation of the last front-bench-seat sedan. I wouldn't be surprised if the W-body extension is to allow time for engineers to design a column shifter for the Epsilon cars (hint to GM: I would buy that).

  • MattC

    This is a win/win for for the manufacturer and the rental fleets. The last generation Impala would not set the enthusiast's heart a flutter but is was reliable, spacious, and would return decent fuel economy. These are all factors that many customers want in a rental vehicle. I know I will be slammed in the forum, but I have purchased three vehicles from Hertz and Enterprise. All of them have been reliable, had proper maintenance schedules, and generally been a good value for a commuter car. (a 1995 Nissan Pathfinder replaced in 2001 with a Honda minivan; twins and a big dog necessitated the change. a 2001 Mitsubishi Mirage bought outright and driven for 200k trouble free miles and a 2009 Rav4 which has been trouble free as well). Did any of these stroke my enthusiast heart? Nope, but they had/have provided reliable and reasonable cost transportation for my family.

    Back to the subject at hand, this allows the manufacturer to squeeze some more profit from a model that has already had the tooling established and keeps the plants running while focusing on bringing a new car to the market. The rental companies are happy because they keep the fleets fresh win "new" models and are sold/leased to the companies at a great rate.

    • Well, you won't get guff for saying that in this forum; you pretty much said what I was going to say. I would add emphasis on the efficiency aspect of draining the parts bin before decommissioning a model. This gives the support systems (taxi repair guys, etc) a little more life out of what they've built. I also would hate to have my federal, state and local civil servants getting used to the idea that the taxpayers are going to buy them anything but a bare bones, homely little thing to get them from A to B.

      Also, I'm about to hop in my 21 year old former Comcast fleet service GMC 1500 and drive it to Mexico and back. I don't think that has watered down the brand for me.

    • danleym

      Yeah, go to a Corvette or Porsche forum if you're looking at people to give you crap for what car you have. Heck, a bunch of us are pretty anti-Prius, but when our very own chief blooger's wife got one, we all understand why and no one gave him much crap for it. Cars serve a utilitarian purpose first- once that's met, then you can have fun.

      Hell, that last sentence works pretty well for the manufacturers, too, when it comes to fleet vehicles. Gotta make money somehow, and fleet sales bring in a lot of cash. It's a market segment you have to play toward, nothing wrong with that.

  • Mr. Smee

    I am torn on this one. On one hand I think it's a good idea as it keeps people employed and provides revenue for developing better retail market cars. On the other hand it cheapens the brand, provides less incentive to pursue more R&D. Maybe there needs to be incentive to produce dedicated fleet vehicles as ways to prove technologies?
    On a only slightly related note: Has anyone noticed that management now all carry iPhones and iPads, while middle management and lower carry Blackberry?

    • Sjalabais

      …and the Impala-driving janitor sports a NOKIA?

      • Vavon

        What have the Janitor, the Impala and the Nokia got in common?
        – They might not be the most modern, but at least they always work…


        • wunno sev

          as the former owner of an n95 and an e73 (both of which, i should note, i loved dearly), i can state unequivocally that they do not always work.

          i miss them and their many virtues, but they let the operating system die in the water, and the cpus were too slow to keep up. it's a damn shame. never have i held a more solid-feeling phone than that e73.

          • PotbellyJoe

            E71 was the last great Nokia phone.

            I loved that thing.

    • BlackIce_GTS

      Cheapening the brand, hmm. Is there any way that car companies benefit from badging fleet vehicles? Why not just leave the grill blank, or put on the rental company's logo for 50c extra per unit.

    • MVEilenstein

      Upper management piss and moan for BYOD, and they get BYOD, security be damned.

  • Van_Sarockin

    It's good that fleets get a continued pipeline of cheap proven vehicles that they know how to maintain. It's bad for the lack of support for new production, especially the end of year crowing about who's sold the most of a given model, which helps pump up future sales. It's also less efficient to keep duplicative lines open, than to harmonize production. But, if a manufacturer feels they will lose substantial fleet sales to a competitor, then they have incentives to keep the old lines up and running. also helps to work down parts backlogs and inventory.

  • Helpful. I'll go with helpful.

    <img src="http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5022/5878348036_531a84d13c.jpg&quot; width="400">

    • danleym

      I looked into renting something fun a while back- a Corvette, Camaro, V8 Mustang- just about anything with some power. I was sad to see just how much it is to do it- beyond what I'm willing to pay.

    • Van_Sarockin

      Yep. A couple of years ago we went on a big driving vacation. So I insisted we reserve a Mustang convertible. They issued us a Sebring. Not the best start.

      Now, the Sebring, that seems to have been designed with fleet service in mind from the very beginning. Like the Cobalt, or any other number of cars we'd all rather forget.

      • JayP2112

        Insurance paid for a rent car while Mustang 1 was getting repaired. It sucked. It sucked beyond suck.
        Base with an auto trans. The next year I drove a Focus SVT and ended up buying it.

        It's like they design rent cars to suck.

        BTW- I just watched Smoking Tire tear the crap out of a Chrysler minivan rental.

        • Van_Sarockin

          You'd think manufacturers would consider that rental fleets are a good way to introduce people to their cars. I've driven rentals that made me reconsider what I thought about a model, and made me much more or less likely to think about buying one.

  • Mad_Hungarian

    The Detroit automakers have long built fleet specials. No one seems to complain about the older ones like this '68 Chevy Biscayne. I guess that's because the old Biscaynes and Ford Customs were sort of like blank canvases on which the hotrod artist could design anything he wanted.<img src="http://www.autotraderclassics.com/images/b/2012/06/18/64241371/0_AutoTrader_Ads_014.jpg"&gt;

  • facelvega

    Carbon Motors E7, if it turns out to be more than just vaporware.

    <img src="http://cache.jalopnik.com/assets/images/12/2008/10/Carbon-Motors-E7-Police.jpg"&gt;

    • Mad_Hungarian

      Didn't Carbon Motors already announce they were tabling this design in favor of an SUV-type piece of vaporware?

  • Ate Up With Motor

    I think it depends. Being associated with the rental car and government fleet markets has a certain stigma, but I don't think being strongly associated with the livery market or police cars is necessarily a bad thing. It doesn't necessarily buy you success in the retail market, but being the default choice for limousines and VIP transport can be part of a successful luxury brand image.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    Keeping old models as fleet fodder is pleasure for the bean counters and poison for brand image and marketing. A case in point is the Chevy Malibu, on the one hand Chevy spent a lot of engineering and marketing dollars on making this an appealing car to pull in people who had turned their back on Chevy. On the other hand, the rental fleets where prospective buyers were most likely to drive a new Chevy were still stuffed with the previous generation "Classic" that reminded all those Camcordima owners why they stopped buying Chevy in the first place.

  • S Walton

    How does GM intend to convince the already skeptical buying public to consider the new, "upscale," substantially more expensive Impala? By continuing to produce the rental queen Impala? I don't think so.