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David Kiley

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New Chevy Impala Is No John Wayne

Posted: 04/ 9/2012 1:16 pm

There is a reason why John Wayne and his career advisers thought the name "The Duke" was better than his given name -- Marion Morrison.

There is something in a name. This week, General Motors is showing off the 2014 Chevy Impala, a car that looks like the greatest single-generation improvement in anything since Rocky III made us forget about the tragedy of Rocky II.

But there is that name. Impala. Speaking of Rocky, "The Italian Stallion" was a great name for a boxer. Much better than, say, "The Bayonne Bleeder," the name given to boxer Chuck Wepner.

The Impala long ago became what even car executives at GM would privately call, and please excuse me, "a rental bitch." That means that only people with little imagination and a mere love of value-priced big sedans could love it. And, of course, rental fleets.

The new Impala is built on the same platform as the new Chevy Malibu, another Chevy that has been held back by its 1970s, early 90s name. In fact, professional women in particular really like the car when they are shown it without Chevy Malibu badging. Put the badging on it and interest drops like a stone.

The Impala is headed for the same fate.

The hardware looks good. The new design borrowed a few visual cues from the Buick LaCrosse and Chevy Camaro. And we can look forward to a new, more fuel-efficient 2.4-liter direct-injection eAssist version, along with a 3.6-liter V6 for the old-school customers. The interior looks a smidge gaudy, but it's not a deal breaker.

It's a very different car from the existing Impala and a vast improvement. GM executives do not like to dump old names no matter the baggage. They say it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to establish a new name. The company has had experience with this lately with the Buick LaCrosse.

But as this is a very new GM, and Chevy, with the best products they've had in my lifetime, I'd be the guy arguing for a new name. There are just too many people who would not touch this car no matter how good it looks or drives with the Impala badge.

It's too bad. Impala is actually a cool name. But after what GM has done to it in the last 20 years or so, it has lost its marketability.

People on the coasts won't take this car seriously with the Impala name, nor will many people under 60.

Who wants to go see a cowboy movie starring Marion Morrison?

For an in-depth take on the new Impala, go to the Autoblog review from the New York Auto Show.

Grand Blvd. is a weekly column about cars from David Kiley, editor-in-chief of AOL Autos. He is a former marketing editor at BusinessWeek, and a former ad executive at three ad agencies.