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NEW YORK (Reuters) - General Motors Co is hoping a redesign of the Chevrolet Impala will end the car's reputation as a rental-lot staple and catch the eye of more retail customers. The Impala, a nameplate that was introduced in 1958, \generated more than half of its sales last year from fleet customers. But the company says the 2014 model, with a quieter ride and cushy interior, will now attract showroom buyers.
"You'll get a true family sedan here," said Mark Reuss, head of GM's operations in North America. "We really haven't had a true family sedan since I've been at the company since 1986."
The Impala's makeover was delayed during the No. 1 U.S. automaker's U.S. government-funded bankruptcy in 2009. Ruess said its redesign was an indication of GM's overhaul since its restructuring.
"Here is the transformation of a company which used to put a lot of capital and resources into only trucks because of the distress in the company," Reuss said. Now, GM is "able to fund really, really good sedans with technology and safety that are obtainable by everybody."
GM sold slightly more than 171,000 Impala cars last year, about the same as in 2010. Similar model cars that include the Impala, as well as Ford Motor Co's Taurus and Toyota Motor Corp's Avalon, grew 3.3 percent. GM unveiled the new Impala at the New York Auto Show on Wednesday. Production was set to begin early next year and the car will hit showrooms in the first half of 2013. GM executives said the new Impala would change the customer mix.
Fleet customers, such as rental car agencies, tend to buy vehicles at a discount, making sales to them less profitable than those to consumers. "The current Impala is much more of a fleet vehicle than it is retail," Chris Perry, head of global Chevrolet marketing, said last week at an event ahead of the New York Auto Show. "There's no hiding that fact."
Reuss said he did not expect it would take long to remedy the Impala's image.
"Maybe they're not going to sell as many of these Impalas, but the margins are going to be better," said AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan.
Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Maureen Bavdek