General Motors Co is giving its mainstream Chevrolet Malibu a speedier-than-usual freshening, after sales of the midsize sedan have fallen further behind those of rival cars from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Ford.
The 2014 Malibu, on sale this fall, will get a mildly revised front end, a slightly roomier interior and a more-efficient four-cylinder engine, GM said Friday.
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The Malibu, one of GM's best-selling cars, was extensively redesigned in early 2012, when it went on sale as a 2013 model. But a full range of models and engine options was not available until later in the year.
A freshening just 18 months after introduction is unusual in an industry where such changes typically occur every three years.
In the first four months of 2013, Malibu sales have dropped nearly 12 percent, and the car remains mired in fifth place among midsize sedans in the United States, well behind the segment leaders.
Since the 2013 Malibu arrived 16 months ago, three competing cars - Nissan Motor Co Ltd's <7201.T> Altima, Ford Motor Co's Fusion and the Honda Accord - have come to market with new designs. Their sales during January through April reflect their edge over the Malibu.
Toyota Motor Corp's <7203.T> Camry maintained its class-leading position, although its sales were down nearly 7 percent from a year earlier. Its lead has narrowed against its closest competitor, the new Accord, which Honda Motor Co Ltd <7267.T> introduced last fall and whose sales have climbed more than 26 percent this year.
Battling for third place are the Altima, which was revamped last summer and whose sales are down 3 percent, and the Fusion, which received a major overhaul last fall and whose sales are up 25 percent.
GM has fought back with a price cut earlier this year on Malibu, as well as heavy discounting.
The company's shares were down 0.4 percent at $34.51 in midday trading.
Automakers on Monday will announce U.S. sales results for May.
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)