General Motors has been offering the Chevrolet Malibu since the early 1960s, and the midsize sedan has been a staple of commercial fleets for decades. So, it should be easy to identify five benefits of the vehicle for fleets.
We turned to LeasePlan USA for help in this latest installment of our "5 Fleet Features" web series.
The 2019 Malibu, which is now in its ninth generation, offers a choice of three powertrains, including a gasoline-electric hybrid. GM began offering the Malibu as a 1964 trim grade of its (at the time) new Chevelle geared to families.
The second-generation Malibu in 1968 moved to a slightly longer wheelbase for sedans. After Chevrolet discontinued the Chevelle following the 1977 model year, the Malibu continued as a smaller midsize model. Chevrolet began offering a police package in 1978.
GM discontinued the Malibu after the 1983 model year and brought back a fifth-generation model in 1997 as a front-wheel drive sedan that was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend.
The current model is available in six trims – including L, LS, RS, LT, Hybrid, and Premier. The base L retails for $22,965. Fleets typically order the LS trim with the 1FL fleet package. The sedan is a staple in sales fleets for pharmaceutical, manufacturing, or food service companies.
"It's been a traditional fleet vehicle, one of those strong and steady vehicles that has held up well, that's been very popular because it's comfortable and fuel efficient," said Becky Langmandel, LeasePlan USA's vice president of analytics, consulting, and transformation.
"It has the capacity to carry four passengers in addition to the driver in a comfortable setting," Langmandel said. "It also has a nice cargo space in the trunk to carry some supplies." The 2019 Malibu offers 15.7 cubic feet of trunk space.
Favorable TCO vs. Compact SUVs
Despite the public's nearly insatiable appetite for SUVs, sedans like the Malibu still represent a value proposition for fleet managers who must consider total cost of ownership over the approximately three years of an open-ended TRAC lease.
A comparable SUV is likely to retain more of its value for fleets, but it could cost $2,000 or more in up-front capital. You can recoup more with an SUV, but you will also tie up more of the company's funds.
A 2019 Chevrolet Equinox would retail for at least $23,800 not including commercial incentives.
Fleets tend to drive the Malibu about 20,000 miles per year, Langmandel said.
Good Fuel Economy
The Malibu delivers solid EPA-rated fuel economy that gives the sedan an edge over a comparable compact SUV. The front-wheel-drive Malibu delivers 3 to 4 miles per gallon more than the front-wheel-drive 2019 Chevrolet Equinox on the highway, in the city, and in combined driving.
When equipped with the 1.5-liter four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic, the Malibu returns 26 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.
That fuel savings could equate to 3 to 4 cents per mile, Langmandel said.
"The Malibu is going to save me fuel, and that's the reason I choose it," she said.
Chevrolet has discontinued the Malibu Hybrid, which sold for about a $5,000 premium over the gasoline model when comparing entry-priced models. The 2019 Malibu Hybrid will be the last model year. It returned significantly higher fuel economy ratings of 49 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway, but drew low interest, according to General Motors.
Lower Preventive Maintenance Costs
The Malibu would likely deliver lower preventive maintenance costs for items such a tires and oil intervals.
The cost of a replacement Malibu tire would be about $20 less than a comparable SUV tire. The Malibu also requires about 1 quart of oil less than an Equinox.
"We do see that the Malibu does have lower maintenance costs than SUVs," Langmandel said.
One item that may be a factor for longer-term users could be the continuously variable transmission that Chevrolet added to the Malibu for the 2019 model that replaced a six- or nine-speed automatic.
Commercial fleets rarely hold a vehicle to a point that it needs a transmission replacement, but a CVT replacement typically costs between $3,000 and $5,000.
Comfortable Interior That Helps Employee Retention
Because the Malibu has a lower starting price, fleet managers can "dress it up a bit," Langmandel said, by adding comfort options such as leather seats or a moonroof.
These options can improve an already comfortable and solid package and can improve the morale of the employees who are driving it, she said.
The Malibu has ample trunk space and leg room that's not much less than an SUV.
"It's very comparable on leg room both in the front and rear of the vehicle," Langmandel said. "So, it's actually a longer vehicle in terms of cargo capacity."
Available Safety Technology
The Malibu has captured the highest crash-test score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, even though it missed a Top Safety Pick from a leading insurance safety institute.
While some driver-assistance technology isn't available on the lower trim models, the Malibu offers automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control as optional equipment.
The safety tech is causing some fleets to upgrade to the Premier and other higher trims, Langmandel said.
"We have a lot of fleets that will not order a vehicle without certain safety features," she said. "If you're looking at the SUV versus the sedan, you're going to have to add the safety options to the sedan. Perhaps you can add more safety options and still be at that lower price point."
Editor's note: We test-drove the 2016 Malibu. You can read our impressions here.