Farewell, Chevy Malibu

Mitchell Hartman May 31, 2024
Heard on:
A 1965 Chevy Malibu convertible, the Malibu’s second model year, being driven in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Courtesy of Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey

Farewell, Chevy Malibu

Mitchell Hartman May 31, 2024
Heard on:
A 1965 Chevy Malibu convertible, the Malibu’s second model year, being driven in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Courtesy of Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey

Soon, the Malibu will be no more. General Motors has announced it will discontinue the long-lived Chevy model in late 2024.

In November, the last Malibus will roll off the assembly line at GM’s Fairfax factory in Kansas City, which will be retooled — at a cost of $390 million — to make the new Ultium-based Chevy Bolt EV, starting in late 2025. 

Chevy has cranked out more than 10 million Malibus in fits and starts over a span of 60 years. The car has had numerous pop culture cameos: in “Pulp Fiction” as a sporty red convertible, in “Repo Man” as a boxy (and possibly radioactive) every-car. 

GM introduced the Malibu in the early 1960s, discontinued it in the 1980s, reintroduced it in the 1990s and redesigned it in the early 2000s.

To get an idea of that first Malibu line, I headed to the Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey in Point Pleasant at the Jersey Shore, where founding board member John Mahoney showed me around. The one-room museum, next to a boat marina, is packed with antique cars — a turn-of-the-century Oldsmobile, a 1923 Packard, a 1939 Cadillac LaSalle and several early Fords.

“We thought people are going to forget what a Model T looks like,” said Mahoney, pointing to a 1922 Model T Huckster Wagon that was used for farm deliveries. “They’re going to think a 1940 Ford comes with a Chevy 350 in it. So we decided to start a museum.”

Last year the museum mounted a classic summertime rides exhibit, including a 1965 Malibu convertible that belongs to the museum’s treasurer. “Her husband bought it for her,” said Mahoney. “It’s pristine condition, gold color. 1965 was the year she graduated high school — the second year for Malibu. And now they’re going out.”

One thing that’s kept the Malibu going for six decades, said Ned Hill at Ohio State University’s Manufacturing Institute: It’s evolved. “Somehow in the muscle-car days, it morphed into a family sedan with racing stripes. Malibu at one point was the number-two selling name brand in the country, but isn’t selling anymore.”

“It’s really a sign of the times,” said auto analyst Karl Brauer at iSeeCars.com. He pointed out that after the Malibu goes away, Chevy will only have one sedan left on the U.S. market — the high-performance Corvette. Ford is down to just the Mustang.

This 1965 Chevy Malibu, the second model-year for the car, was exhibited as part of a summertime rides display at the Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey in 2023. (Courtesy of Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey)

“Cars are just not popular anymore, because people have discovered the SUV,” said Brauer. “SUVs are more flexible, they can carry humans as well as any sedan ever did. Plus they have a higher seat and better visibility, which people like. And with the SUV, car companies can use the same unibody platform that they would make a sedan on, get a higher profit and a higher price.”

Brauer is a bit wistful, though. “I’m able to look out my window right now and see a 2004 Malibu.” He emailed a picture of the family Malibu parked outside his house: it’s boxy, black, with an oddly out-of-place racing fin on the back. “I bought it one year old, it had 20,000 miles, it now has 165,000 miles, and my son is still driving it.”

The car isn’t making any fashion statements: “I would not say it’s got the most compelling or exciting design, the interior material qualities were never that great. But the drive train — typical GM — is very robust and relatively fuel-efficient. And it just keeps going,” said Brauer.

For Malibu drivers and the people who love them, here are some practicalities of car-model discontinuation.

First, parts for repairs. Ned Hill at Ohio State says don’t worry: “Either the tier-3 supplier that made the part will still be in business, or someone else is going to step up to fill it. Junkyards will do a pretty good business.”

Next, Malibus on the used-car market. Karl Brauer at iSeeCars says, no big loss there:

“The cancelation of the Malibu isn’t really going to impact it any more than it already is being impacted by being an American sedan. Sedans’ resale value generally speaking isn’t that good, especially American sedans.

“A lot of them were in rental-car agencies and had a lot of fleet sales,” Brauer continued. “That also dampens the value on the used market, because there are just so many out there and they’re being sold at auction.”

iSeeCars.com auto analyst Karl Brauer is the proud owner of a 2004 Chevy Malibu, which he bought in 2005 with 20,000 miles on it. The family car, which Brauer’s son now drives, has 165,000 miles and is still going strong. (Courtesy of Karl Brauer)

Finally, there are the autoworkers in Kansas City who’ve been making Malibus. In an email, GM said that following the plant shutdown at the end of 2024 to retool for EV production (as well as for production of the Cadillac XT4): “The majority of our represented employees will be on layoff during the conversion, approximately 1400 represented employees. . . Affected employees will be supported according to the provisions of the UAW-GM agreement.

GM said some union workers may have opportunities to transfer to other GM facilities under terms of the UAW contract, and that no engineering or auto-design employees will be impacted by the changeover to EV production in Kansas City.

The biggest loser from discontinuing the Chevy Malibu, said equity analyst Garrett Nelson at CFRA Research, is consumers. “They’re going to have fewer options in terms of smaller, less expensive vehicles.”

New Malibus sell for roughly $25,000 to $30,000.

“Every time one of these lower-priced models is discontinued, it drives up the average price of vehicles overall, at a time when affordability is a real issue,” said Nelson. “But the truth is, automakers are more than happy to do this because it helps boost their bottom line. A lot of these smaller models are just low-margin at best.”

The biggest winners, said Nelson, will be Japanese and Korean automakers. They already have top-selling small sedans, including the Camry and Accord. And as the Malibu drives off into the sunset, domestic automakers leave that market wide open to the foreign competition.

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