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Holden working on special Malibu for China

Heading east: These left-hand-drive Chevrolet Malibu sedans were snapped during an engineering road test in Melbourne where a face-lifted model is being developed by Holden for China.

Disguised China-only Chevrolet Malibu sprung as Holden tests latest facelift

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Chevrolet logo13 Aug 2014

By RON HAMMERTON

GM HOLDEN’S Australian engineers are working on a redesigned Malibu mid-sized sedan for the giant Chinese market, as evidenced by these pictures snapped in Melbourne.

Two disguised Chevrolet Malibus were spotted in convoy in the outer eastern suburb of Ferntree Gully, possibly heading for the hills east of the city for some chilly winter mountain road testing.

The cars were sprung by a GoAuto reader just days after a new-generation Ford Taurus was photographed by GoAuto on Victorian roads, underlining the level of international engineering work going on at Holden and Ford Australia right now.

Holden product communications national manager Kate Lonsdale told GoAuto that the left-hand-drive Malibus were being tested in an “engineering buy-off ride” as part of development work for a Chinese-market-only Malibu.

She said the work was part of a General Motors “work share program”, in which various design and engineering branches contribute to new and revised models.

The car is not destined for Australia as a replacement for the current Korean-built Malibu that was launched in Australia in June 2013.

In the United States, GM engineers have been spotted testing Malibu sedans in what appears to be a more extensive facelift than the Chinese-only car seen here.

The American test “mules” are said to have a longer, more sloped roof than before, possibly indicating a stretched wheelbase to overcome a shortcoming in rear legroom that has been one of the main complaints about the current car.

Car and Driver speculates the American Malibu will appear next year as a 2016 model, possibly then flowing on to Australia as the new-look Holden rival for Toyota’s top-selling Camry.

The development of a China-only Malibu using the current car as a base fits with recent GM policy under which separate facelifts are becoming common place to better match models with Chinese tastes and budgets.

The Chinese-market Cruze small car recently diverged from the western version when it got a special nose and tail job and interior fit out unveiled at the 2014 Beijing motor show in April.

In China, the Chevrolet Malibu was ranked 33rd in the passenger car sales race in the first half of this year, well behind some rivals such as the Volkswagen Passat (7th) and Camry (18th).

In the US, the Chevrolet Malibu received a rushed mid-cycle rejig late last year to try to invigorate sales, but it is still dragging the chain against the likes of Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion.

The same mild facelift did not eventuate in Australia, where the front-drive mid-sizer is running sixth in class with a disappointing segment share of 4.0 per cent so far this year.

While a stretched body will help to improve interior space, the Chinese facelift appears to fall short of such major changes, sporting a similar silhouette to the current model.

Our pictures appear to show protruding round tail-lights visible through gaps in the rear disguise, indicating this version has ditched the current Malibu’s Camaro-style square taillights.

This seems to match images of the American Chevrolet test “mules” posted on the internet in recent weeks in North America.

However, the back number plate on the cars seen here is mounted in a rear bumper recess – in the same fashion as the current Chevrolet/Holden Malibu – rather than higher on the boot lid as evident on the US development cars.

Apart from the Malibu project, Holden is known to be working the new Barina RS Turbo – also known as the Chevrolet Aveo RS and Sonic RS, depending on the market – and several development jobs for Opel, including the hot Corsa OPC and its Vauxhall twin, the Corsa VXR, as well as a revised Mokka compact SUV.

Much of Holden’s engineering division is being closed down in line with the end of Australian GM car manufacturing in 2017, but the company’s Lang Lang proving ground has been given a reprieve, with at least some test work continuing there beyond the end of local production.

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