Chevrolet Malibu Eco’s extra fuel economy fails to translate to more sales

Article by Anita Panait, on January 30, 2013

The Eco mild-hybrid version of the Chevrolet Malibu cannot seem to attract customers just like the other variants of the vehicle despite offering better fuel economy. The reason? The savings brought by the extra fuel economy is not enough to justify the almost $3,000 extra cost of purchasing a Malibu mild-hybrid.

The Malibu Eco offers a combined 3 mpg more than the base Malibu model. Jeff Tuckman, the dealership's inventory manager at Castle Chevrolet in Chicago, said that prospective buyers quickly decide to pass over the Malibu Eco once they hear its price. Tuckman said buyers would rather have the base LS model, which is just as “nice and luxurious."

Dealers worry that the Malibu Eco’s fuel economy may not be enough to win buyers over two other versions powered by a 2.5-liter engine and a 2.0-liter turbocharged powerplant.

The buyers’ unwillingness to pay extra for just a few mpg benefits poses a challenge for General Motors, which is making a huge gamble on its mild-hybrid technology dubbed as eAssist. GM is expected to employ eAssist across much of its lineup in the next few years. GM aims to sell 500,000 electrified vehicles around the world annually by 2017 – with mild hybrids accounting for much of target figure.

GM engineers are currently working to develop a next-generation eAssist system that would provide better fuel economy figures, and probably would be offered on larger vehicles like crossovers.

Pamela Fletcher, GM's executive chief engineer for electric vehicle, said that they continue to work on improvements on the eAssist system to improve the efficiency and cut its costs. Aside from the Malibu, GM also offers the eAssist system on the Buick LaCrosse as well as on the Buick Regal as the base powertrain. GM will also offer the system on the redesigned Chevy Impala, which will be rolled out late spring.

As disclosed by Bryan Nesbitt, executive director for GM exterior design and Chevrolet Brand Champion, the exterior design of the new Chevrolet Malibu shares the same genes as its Camaro and Corvette, allowing it to introduce a sporty sensibility to the family sedan segment. This sportiness is conveyed through its broad shoulders, wider stance, and integrated rear spoiler.

Compared to its predecessor, the new Malibu features a shorter wheelbase (minus 4.5 inches or 114 mm) and wider front and rear tracks (plus over two inches or 51 mm to 62 inches). Its exterior is marked by Chevrolet's dual-port grille, larger Chevrolet bow-tie badges on the front and rear, projector HID headlamps, and Camaro-inspired LED dual-element taillamps, as well as 17-inch to 19-inch wheels.

The new Chevrolet Malibu is provided with a new shape and design, which allowed engineers to eliminate 60 counts of wind drag compared to its predecessor. In fact, the exterior of the new Malibu exterior is expected to be certified by SAE as one of the most aerodynamically efficient cars in the segment, having a coefficient of drag (Cd) rating near that of the Chevrolet Volt (.280).

Select models of the new Chevrolet Malibu in North America are provided with electronically controlled and integrated active aero shutters, which helped enhance its aerodynamics and fuel economy sans any compromise in exterior design. When the need for air intake is at minimal, these aero shutters automatically close airflow through the lower intake opening, thereby redirecting airflow around the front of the Malibu and down its sides – instead of through it – resulting in an enhanced aerodynamic performance.

The closure or opening of the shutter is conditional on the engine coolant temperature and speed. This means that when less engine cooling is needed – like when the Malibu is moving at highways speeds – the shutters would close. When engine cooling is required – like during hot city driving or negotiating a hill – the shutters would open.

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