Maybe It's Too Soon to Count Out GM's Chevrolet Malibu

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Maybe it's a little bit too early to count Malibu out.

The biggest U.S. automaker does not, at the moment, have a viable entry in the biggest sector of the U.S. light-vehicle market. But as it moves toward the introduction of the 2014 Malibu, GM ( GM) said the midsize car will come with relatively high fuel efficiency, besting category sales leader Toyota ( TM) Camry, and will start at a competitive $22,965, excluding fees.

Malibu, which will start to show up at dealers this fall, will have an EPA-estimated 25 city and 36 highway mpg, representing a 14% improvement in city fuel economy, GM said Wednesday.

Malibu will also be the first midsize sedan sold in the U.S. to offer stop/start technology standard on its 2.5L base model. Stop/start technology automatically shuts off the engine when the car comes to a stop -- at stoplights, for example. The engine automatically restarts when the driver takes his or her foot off the brake.

"In this competitive midsize segment, there is no standing still," said Chris Perry, Chevrolet marketing vice president, in a prepared statement. "In addition to fuel economy improvements, the 2014 Malibu is roomier and more refined than its predecessor."

Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said the improvement in mileage is significant. "GM needs a hook," she said. "Malibu is obviously late to the party in terms of being a competitive sedan. GM needs something to attract buyers and to conquest from other brands, because every car in the field is good."

Malibu has just 7% off the midsize car market, according to figures compiled by Kelley Blue Book. Market leader Camry has a 16% market share. Honda ( HMC) Accord, Nissan ( NSANY) Altima and Ford ( F) Fusion all outsell the Malibu.

In terms of fuel efficiency, Malibu's combined estimated efficiency rating for city and highway driving is 29 mpg. Camry, Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata are at 28 while the Ford Fusion is at 26 mpg. On a comparative efficiency rating chart, GM did not include Accord, with combined efficiency of 30 miles a gallon or Altima, with combined efficiency of 31 mpg.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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