Ford's (NYSE:F) Fusion has outsold any other Ford vehicle this year, with the exception of America's No. 1 selling vehicle, the F-Series pickup truck. It's been a huge success with critics and consumers alike, and the only thing holding its sales back is that production plants are running 114% of capacity and struggling to keep up with demand. The Fusion has dominated its crosstown rival General Motors' (NYSE:GM) Chevy Malibu, and GM has responded with early changes to its model in hopes of keeping sales competitive.
Here are the details on GM's recent changes for the 2014 Malibu and a look at whether it will be enough to keep pace with the fast-selling Fusion.
Here's a quick look at how sales results have fared between the two models since the Fusion's launch in 2005.
The highlighted part of the Fusion's line graph shows what probably brought on Chevy's hurried updates on the Malibu. Chevy's car sold just over 70,000 units through April, while the Camry, Accord, Altima, and Fusion sold more than 132,000, 121,000, 108,000, and 107,000, respectively.
Mid-cycle improvements or updates are usually done three years into a model's design cycle, but the Malibu's updates have appeared after just about a year -- much earlier than usual. This move could be viewed as an act of desperation, as the 2013 Fusion has blown past the Malibu and is gaining ground on segment leaders Toyota and Honda.
According to AutoNews, GM has a list of updates that it hopes will even the playing field for the 2014 Malibu.
First, you'll notice the much more aggressive front-end grille -- a feature that worked well for the Fusion in a typically bland vehicle segment.
Chevy's 2014 Malibu will also get an improved 2.5-liter engine and a suspension improvement borrowed from the Impala. GM also added an engine shut-off feature that should help boost fuel economy by 5% during stop-start driving in the city.
Because of a common complaint, GM engineers redesigned cushions on the back of the front seats, and rear seat cushions now allow for an extra 1.25 inches of knee space.
To compete with the Fusion's popular EcoBoost engine, GM will have an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that will produce 14% more torque than the current model.
Finally, the Malibu's center console also underwent slight changes to include extra storage for phones and cupholders.
After reading through the updates, I honestly wonder whether they'll be substantial enough to bring the 2014 Malibu back into contention with the big dogs in the mid-size market. I don't even know if the updates are enough for the car to compete with the Fusion, which has won numerous awards this year.
- The Fusion beat out five other models from Toyota, Mazda, and Dodge to take home this year's "Green Car of the Year" award from the Los Angeles Auto Show.
- Kelley Blue Book called this year's Fusion the "Best Redesigned Vehicle" of the year.
- U.S. News & World Report crowned the Fusion with the 2013 "Best Cars for Families" award, and it has won the best mid-size-car category for three straight years.
- U.S. News dubbed Ford's ride the "Best Car for the Money," giving it credibility to compete on terms of value -- a welcome change for Ford buyers.
The highly important and competitive mid-size-sedan market has typically been dominated by Toyota's Camry and other Japanese imports. It's a huge chunk of business, as the mid-size market represented a quarter of the entire light-vehicle market last year.
The chokehold on this market from Japanese imports has loosened. According to Edmunds.com, which noted in the first quarter that market share for Toyota's Camry and Honda's Accord dropped from 37% to 28% -- a drastic change.
As GM emerged from bankruptcy and its darkest chapter in history, it held the oldest vehicle portfolio in the industry. That caused GM to lose market share for years. By 2016, the company plans to refresh, redesign, or replace 90% of its vehicles, and it needs the refreshes to be successful to win back lost market share. If the dusted-off Malibu can't help GM stay competitive in the mid-size segment, it's going to be a long few years for GM, and its investors, while trying to stage its most important comeback with American consumers.
Interested in using the surging U.S. and global automotive rebound to boost your portfolio gains? For two major auto investments that could pay off big in the future, check out The Motley Fool's brand-new free report.
Fool contributor Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors and owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.