DETROIT – With sales of its Chevrolet Caprice slumping, General Motors Corp. has introduced a full-size, rear- wheel-drive “concept” car that could be offered as a replacement for the Texas-made sedan as soon as 1995. Chevrolet General Manager Jim Perkins uncovered a sleek, black Impala SS, a souped-up version of the Caprice that incorporates sportier styling, a 300-horsepower engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Perkins said no decision has been made for a scaled-back Impala to replace the Caprice. But he and other top GM officials said that the car is being considered as a replacement for the Caprice, which has never lived up to GM’s hopes.
When GM launched the all-new Caprice for the 1991 model year it predicted annual sales of 220,000. But the full-size sedan and longtime Chevrolet flagship sells less than 120,000 units a year.
“We’re thinking seriously about the Impala,” said Perkins.
He said that if GM opts to build a new Impala it likely will be produced in Arlington, Texas, which by the end of 1993 will be making all of the company’s full-size, rear-drive cars.
The Impala could be made as an all-new vehicle and Caprice replacement or as an addition to Chevrolet’s lineup, Perkins said.
A production version of the car would have a less powerful engine and greater ground clearance, but would look like the Impala Perkins showed to the media at the 1993 North American International Auto Show.
The Impala SS is a Caprice LTZ with a dressed-up exterior and Corvette ZR1 engine, which is produced by Brunswick Corp.’s Mercury Marine Division of Stillwater, Okla. The car is generally sold as a police vehicle, but the show model is outfitted with new grille, deck-lid spoiler and monochromatic paint scheme.
The Impala SS also has redesigned rear and side windows and 17-inch aluminum wheels. The interior boasts bucket seats and a new center console, instrument panel and door trim.
“We wanted to design a full-size car based on the Caprice that would shock people,” said Jon Moss, manager of Chevrolet specialty vehicles.
“We tried to create a version of the Caprice that could do things that people normally don’t associate with the car. But we were also looking for a substantial improvement in styling – a sporty flair.”
The current Caprice was the result of a five-year product development program, but it never succeeded in the marketplace. Experts say its rounded styling has been its chief drawback.
GM insiders compare the Caprice to an upside-down bathtub. Some employees in the company’s design studio have dubbed it “Shamu.”
Perkins said design changes to the car’s rear wheel-well and its rear bumper have made it more appealing to customers.
“I was very disappointed in the Caprice in 1991 and 1992,” he said. “I thought the car should have done a lot better in the market than it did. I wasn’t here when it was done so it’s not fair for me to make a judgment about the styling.
“I think if the car had been done originally how it is today it would have been a success.
“But to be fair, the full-size market is not growing and there are more players in it. So whether we could have achieved the numbers originally forecast is questionable.”
He predicted that the Caprice will do better in 1993, possibly topping 130,000 sales.
Jeff Hurlbert, Chevrolet general sales manager, said Chevrolet had hoped that the current Caprice would stay on the market for five years. But he acknowledged that may not happen.
The company is looking to trim redundant or slumping car lines and could decide to replace the stumbling Caprice.
If that were to happen, he said, that company would likely focus on exterior changes, as opposed to the costly development of a new vehicle.
“In the initial game plan, the Caprice was looked at as a five-year vehicle,” Hurlbert said. “But with the pressure to consolidate platforms, we’re looking at how we can simplify our lineup.
“If you look at the fullsize car lineup through 1995 and 1996 it will be difficult to bring up a whole new ground-up car in a declining segment.”
He said, however, that GM will study the Impala design carefully before moving into production.
“There is no missing the mark anymore,” Hurlbert said. “We have to be absolutely certain that the products being brought out are going to be winners.”
Full text: By Michael D. Towle
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
People: Towle, Michael D, Perkins, Jim, Hurlbert, Jeff
Number of pages: 0
Publication year: 1993
Publication date: Jan 12, 1993
Section: NEWS, Page 1