Its design received mixed reviews and it was given ambitious sales goals in a segment dominated by such stalwart nameplates as Camry and Taurus. But Impala's return to the family sedan market so far is paying off for Chevrolet.

Between 80%-85% of Impala's year-to-date sales through November (68,076) are retail deliveries, while competitors Ford Taurus and Dodge Intrepid maintain about a 50% retail rate, Chevrolet executives say. The automaker plans to maintain that retail-to-fleet ratio in 2000 when Impala's sales goal is 200,000 units.

That's not to understate the sedan's success to fleets, especially to law enforcement agencies. “We've sold as many as we could build this year,” points out Impala Assistant Brand Manager John Hughes.

In New York, the city's police department, which has been driving Ford Crown Victorias, ordered 900 Impalas this year, Mr. Hughes says. Next year's sales goal to law enforcement agencies has been doubled from 5,000 to 10,000.

Impala Brand Manager Don Parkinson claims some 30% of deliveries in 1999 are conquest sales. “And we expect it to go a little higher,” says Mr. Hughes.

Impala is bringing in consumers who don't fit the bow tie division's mainstream blue collar image, with a substantially higher percentage of buyers holding a professional/managerial occupation and a median household income of $60,000-$70,000.

Impala buyers also tend to be in the early to mid-50s, which is younger than the car it is replacing in the Chevy lineup, the Lumina.

Those statistics indicate that Impala is fairing well in areas of the U.S. heavily infiltrated by imports. And it is, says Mr. Parkinson.

The Midwest and Northeast regions “continue to really be the bell ringers and they do the lion's share of the volume,” Mr. Parkinson acknowledges. “But there are substantial increases in the Southeast, the South-Central and the West. We're seeing just a phenomenal increase over what” the Lumina was running.

Chevy likely could create more Impala excitement in the race-crazed South if it introduced, as has been rumored, another Impala SS. “Definitely stay tuned,” Mr. Hughes says.

As for Lumina, the Chevy executives say there are no immediate plans to do away with the car. Through November, year-to-date Lumina sales are down 43% vs. like-1998. Fleet sales account for 42% of deliveries.