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Mark Phelan: Main Malibu model to face some stiff competition when it finally hits streets

Published: Friday, July 20, 2012

Updated: Friday, July 20, 2012 09:07


DETROIT - Chevrolet is about to roll out what it expects to be the best-selling model of its crucial new 2013 Malibu midsize sedan, and not a moment too soon.

A high-fuel-economy version of the car that uses some hybrid technology has been on sale since early this year.

That car, called the Malibu Eco, got a warm reception initially, but recently inspired a harsh Fortune magazine report titled "The Most Disliked Car of the Year (So Far)."

That's quite a stretch _ I liked the Malibu Eco's performance, fuel economy features and design a lot when I tested one in February _ but it points to a challenge Chevrolet faces as it rolls out the full Malibu model line.

Chevy has sold about 7,000 Malibu Ecos so far this year. It expects to sell well more than 200,000 Malibus annually when the full model line is in production.

The Malibu Eco gets excellent fuel economy. Its EPA ratings of 25 mpg in the city, 37 on the highway and 29 combined were head-turners when it debuted in February.

Since then, the 2013 Nissan Altima has hit the market with higher fuel economy numbers and a lower base price. Ford promises the high-mpg version of its new Fusion sedan will match the Eco. A new Honda Accord likely will be a strong competitor when it arrives later this year.

The next model of the 2013 Malibu on sale will be powered by a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It should be in dealerships in early August at a base price about $3,000 lower than the Malibu Eco, which comes with lots of standard features in addition to GM's eAssist system. A top-of-the-line turbocharged model should go on sale in early October.

The 2013 Malibu is an attractive and comfortable vehicle, with some very appealing features.

So far, GM's sold it largely on the strength of the Eco's fuel economy. It's time to shift focus to the whole car.

It's tough enough looking out for deer leaping across country roads, but now we're supposed to beware of algae? Apparently so, and that's the genesis of a new contest from

The website is offering prizes that include a $500 Bridgestone Tires gift certificate, a portable navigation system and a digital camera in exchange for photos of oddball street and street-adjacent signs.

TDB publisher Paul Eisenstein was inspired to hold the contest by a sign warning of algae _ apparently really slippery, mean, scary algae _ on a road in the Angeles Forest, north of Los Angeles.

The contest is open until Aug. 17. TDB readers will vote on the winners.

Send a JPEG photo of the sign and the scoop on where and when you saw it, to All signs must be verifiably real. Doctored photos are ineligible. Go to the TDB website for the rest of the rules and a look at some bizarre signs.

And be careful not to slip on the algae when you take the photo.

Suppliers say the darnedest things.

There's an old Irish saying: Two people can keep a secret, as long as one of them isn't an auto supplier.

Automotive News reports a pair of proud suppliers let the cat out of the bag last week when they bragged about work they're doing for GM.

Canadian tooling supplier Omega Tool unwittingly provided the first look at the nose of the eagerly anticipated 2014 Chevrolet Corvette in a promotional video. A large grille opening and cutouts for fixed headlights are noteworthy.

GMC will join Chevrolet in selling a new midsize truck. Supplier Rugged Liner let that slip in a news release announcing that it will make bedliners for the pickup.

We already knew Chevrolet will sell a new midsize Colorado pickup due to be produced in Missouri. GMC had been mum about whether it would offer a new midsize pickup, but Rugged Liner says it will supply both models for the 2015 model year.

Mark Phelan is the auto critic for the Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at

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