Chevrolet refreshes Malibu, Cruze and Spark for 2019

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

Las Vegas — Chevrolet is refreshing a third of its car lineup for 2019, with restyled faces and new trims for the Malibu and Cruze sedans and the Spark minicar.

2019 Cruze Hatch RS’ front fascia and grille is all-new.

The Malibu gets an RS trim for 2019, Chevrolet’s sporty mid-level trim. Starting around $25,000, the Malibu RS has 18-inch wheels, a black sport grille, black bowties, a rear spoiler and dual exhaust pipes. The interior has a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, black cloth seats and an 8-inch touchscreen running the new Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system.

The RS trim for the Malibu fits between the LS base model and the LT model, with the premier model sitting at the highest end for the 2019 Malibu. The LT gets LED lighting integrated into the headlamps and a 2.0-liter turbo engine paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The Cruze Sedan Premier and Cruze Hatch RS fill price-points the brand needed to be competitive.

The Cruze and the Spark both get updated front fascia. The Cruze also gets a new trim line with the lower-end LS Hatch option on the Cruze Hatch line. In addition to widening the popular Cruze hatch offerings — the Cruze hatch accounted for 20 percent of total Cruze retail sales in 2017 — both of these new trims for Cruze and Malibu cars in 2019 fill additional price-points the brand needed to be competitive.

2019 Malibu Premier’s front fascia, grilles and headlamps are all-new.

A majority of commercial fleet sales of the Malibu end up being the near high-end LT models, because fleet buyers are looking for top safety features to keep drivers and passengers safe, Steve Majoros, Chevrolet’s marketing director for cars and crossovers, told the press in Las Vegas. As GM moves to reduce some of its fleet volume in favor of more lucrative retail sales, Chevrolet cars needed offerings that appealed to new car buyers on the lower-end to middle of the pricing spectrum.

The first-ever 2019 Malibu RS offers a sporty, personalized appearance that include 18-inch machined wheels, black sport grille, black bowtie emblems, a rear spoiler and a dual-outlet exhaust.

“It’s about being more competitive at that lower end,” Majoros said. “This is about giving customers the price points and the content and the style they want and deserve, but it’s also about giving our dealers the tools they need to sell and succeed.”

The Spark is mostly just getting a new look for 2019, with more chrome for the grille, available projector-style headlamps and LED daytime running lamps moved lower, following with other fascia looks in the Chevrolet lineup. It’s offered in four trims, including the crossover-inspired ACTIV trim that raises the height of the vehicle by nearly a half-inch.

An updated face and new available active safety technology for the 2019 Spark add attitude and purpose to Chevrolet’s feisty, segment sales-leading mini-car.

It’s a sign that General Motors Co.’s marquee brand is still investing in its car lineup, even as the segment shrinks and a recent report from the Wall Street Journal states that the Sonic and Impala could be on the chopping block.

“Chevy is obviously our full-line brand,” said Alan Batey, GM’s executive vice president and president of North America. “You have to be really careful that external changes — whatever they could be, fuel price, for example — can really change the market really quickly.”

GM invested heavily in the bow-tie brand following the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy, resulting in a breadth of product today that ranges from the compact battery-electric Bolt EV to the Silverado pickup. Even if the Chevy sedan lineup shrinks, Batey said, there aren’t any talks about getting out of the car segment altogether.

“We’re seeing a big move into crossovers, a big move into trucks, but we’re always looking for what’s next, what’s the next trend,” Batey said. “The range of vehicles is really to make sure that we’re able to provide everyone in America the right vehicle for their needs.”

Still Chevrolet recognizes the challenges in the U.S. car market. Cars as a share of the automotive retail industry are down from around 45 percent four years ago to 34 percent in 2017 as consumer demand for affordable, fuel-sipping sedans has lessened after the Great Recession. But GM isn’t giving up on the segment, even as it continues to shrink, and its crossover and SUV lineup brings in more cash.

The company says cars continue to play an important role in building brand loyalty as compact SUVs like the Trax attract customers coming out of Chevrolet passenger cars.

“The car market today still is very vibrant and we have a strong opinion on this and we’re bullish on the car market,” Majoros said. “There is volume to be had and we intend to go out and get more than our fair share.”