GM Cuts Current Mild Hybrid System, Prepares for Another

General Motors announced that it will stop making mild hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Malibu and Saturn Aura in the United States, and will phase out production of the Buick LaCrosse mild hybrid in China. The elimination of its current mild hybrid technology is one more sign that the company is cutting back on programs and technologies that are expensive and unsuccessful—in the same way that it’s reducing unprofitable brands and dealerships.

General Motors cited poor sales of the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid as the reason for cutting the car. Company officials said inventory of the Malibu Hybrid is backing up on dealership lots. When the Malibu Hybrid debuted at the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper said, “The Malibu Hybrid‘s winning package of uncompromising design and fuel economy will help us assert leadership in the midsize sedan segment and meet the needs of Chevy customers.”

Stopping production of the Malibu Hybrid and Buick LaCrosse Hybrid in China, as well as GM’s sale the entire Saturn brand, effectively closes out the company’s existing mild hybrid technology. From the time the company first released details about its mild hybrids, critics questioned the technology that produces only modest gains in fuel efficiency.

GM officials said cutting back on less successful fuel-efficient systems will allow the company to focus on new technologies—including the plug-in series system hybrid underlying the Chevy Volt—which will require a significant investment.

GM’s so-called two-mode hybrids—yet another flavor of hybrid produced by GM—has been applied to large and expensive vehicles and has not been well received by car buyers. Yet, the company has not announced plans to discontinue the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, or its full-size hybrid pickups. However, Chrysler stopped making full-size hybrid SUVs—the Dodge Durango Hybrid and Chrysler Aspen Hybrid—that use the same technology co-developed by the two companies and BMW.

Honda was the first company to discontinue production of a hybrid car, when it stopped production of the Honda Accord Hybrid in 2006. The Honda Accord’s emphasis on power over efficiency and its use of a V6 engine, were cited as the reason for poor sales.

Back to the Drawing Board

GM is now promising a new future mild hybrid powertrain utilizing a lithium ion battery. The system would be introduced in the summer of 2010, but the company has not revealed which vehicles will receive the new hybrid treatment. “It will be more then one vehicle from more then one brand,” a GM representative told HybridCars.com. “But it definitely will not be the Malibu.”


  • Max Reid

    Why not they apply the 2-Mode Hybrid in Impala, Malibu, Vue, Equinox, etc.

    Honda’s new Insight (Partial Hybrid) is not very successful in USA either, although its quite successful in Japan.

    Looks like customers will settle with Full Hybrids for now and start showing interest in Plugin Hybrids soon.

  • WhyNot

    Max,

    I don’t suppose you can back up any of your assertions??

    Why would you say Honda’s Insight is not very successful in the US?
    It has been available here for such a short time! Why do you call it a “partial” hybrid? It’s either hybrid or not. And it is.

    And you don’t really know what customers will show an interest in next do you?

  • Nelson Lu

    I do not (yet) share Max’s assessment that the Insight is not successful; it’s too early to tell. However, he is right in that the Insight is a lot closer, technology-wise, to the GM mild hybrids than the Ford/Toyota full hybrids. The Insight’s electrical system can’t accelerate the car by itself. It’s got more electrical capabilities than the Malibu, but not that much more. Its fuel savings effectively came from its diminutive size (in comparison to the Ford and Toyota hybrids) and Honda’s (impressive, I’d have to agree) optimizations, not because it has particularly impressive hybrid technology. Some have criticized GM’s hybrid badging and called it misleading. In many ways, Honda’s hybrid badging is not that much less misleading.

  • qqRocykBeans

    I agree with Max

    why no Two-Mode Cobalt, HHR, or Aveo?

    these would happen if GM was serious

  • Charles

    With none of the Two-Mode partners using the system for anything but big trucks and SUVs, I am starting to think it is too heavy/big for mid and small size cars. Does anybody know?

  • TOM

    RIGHT NOW TO GET THINGS STARTED, GM SHOULD BUY THE RIGHTS FROM TOYOTA ( LIKE NISSAN DID) AND USE TOYOTA’S TECH FOR HYBRID CARS. OR DO LIKE THEY (FORD AND GM) DID ON THE SIX SPEED TRANSMISSION. FREAT TRANSMISSION BY THE WAY. GM ALSO NEEDS TO SHED AT LEAST 2 LAYERS OF MANAGEMENT. DESIGN CARS AND TRUCKS THAT ARE VIABLE. REPAY THE GOVERNMENT THE MONEY, AND TELL PRESIDENT OBAMA, GOODBYE !

  • hamilton

    The stop-start Malibu was not a bad idea, just not launched as a niche product with all the marketing and communication arrows in GM’s (shrinking) quiver. So far, GM has not worked out how to sell either the mild or 2-mode hybrids in significant volumes. That speaks to a larger underlying problem: can the company and its dealer body leave behind decades of mass-oriented vehicle design, assembly & marketing?

    It’s far from clear where consumer demand and/or legislation will drive powertrain technology. Automakers that successfully develop and SELL hybrids (of whatever flavor), BEVs, flex-fuel vehicles or whatever, will be those that work out the balance between leading and responding to the consumer demand curve with the winning mix of products & technology, the right price point – and communications that explain consumer benefits in ways that resonate.

    GM has to figure out how to design and market these niche products to initially small but influential consumer segments, fast! or like the “mild” stop-start vehicles, the 2-mode hybrid, the Volt, etc will be further costly but half-hearted measures that are shut down a few years after launch. This isn’t marketing your daddy’s oldsmobile!

  • WompaStompa

    I firmly believe anything “hybrid” that GM has released to be purely to cash in on the “trend” of hybrid vehicles. If they had attempted to create something matching the Prius or even the HCH, they might not be in the situation they are in now. People are wanting better MPG and more people are waking up to the fact that they should care about the planet. The only people that still buy GM are people are brand loyal or are neo-cons that just don’t care about the environment.

    As far as the Honda Insight, I am pretty disappointed in what it wound up being, especially considering what the original was. The final MPG numbers on the Insight make me want to go buy a 2010 Prius.

  • Tom Me

    Geeze… If anything, keep the mild hybrids to have market presence. They need consumers to think of them in a green way. Keep all the current hybrids.. slow or stop production to compensate for low demand. Then, introduce the new hybrids when ready.

    Or.. kill the current hybrids. Let environmentally/fuel efficient customers get frustrated with GM… then introduce new systems with that bad karma.. Wow.. GM is so much smarter than me.

  • jef

    I recently bought a 2009 Malibu. I love this car! I’m getting 32 mpg avg. and have plenty of power. Looked at the hybrid but it was too expensive for the small increase in mileage.
    By the way Wampa I’m not a neo-con or a brand loyalist, i traded a nissan for my Malibu.

  • chukcha

    It’s about time GM focus on the technoilogy that realy matters: the plugin hybrid.

  • Samie

    Not sure what GM would gain with continuing the two-mode system. Even if you added it to an Aveo. The problem has been marginal mpg’s for the extra 4k-9k price. Upgrading the two-mode may also add more to the price of some GM hybrid vehicles making any gains in mpg irrelevant. I agree GM should lease or quickly develop a full hybrid system to compete with the Insight and Prius. You can offer the Volt but if you don’t add another full hybrid to the line-up you can’t fully capitalize on your new hybrid products. Having a complete line-up is the only way GM is going to survive…

  • dgolfer

    The Ford Fusion hybrid blows them all away. Gets 8mpg better than Camry hybrid.

  • Tom Me

    GM’s two mode hybrid system came out of their hybrid bus programs of long ago. It’s really for larger vehicles. They use two electric motors.. each optimized for a different speed range. One motor works best at lower speeds, the other at higher. On large vehicles, that’s a good tradeoff. It’s not clear how well that scales to smaller vehicles… but more importantly, it does cost a lot to integrate two motors, control that, etc. On a large vehicle, this is acceptable, since simply taking a Prius like system, scaling it up, would mean a HUGE battery. The upcoming Vue.. or whatever vehicle that system ends up in.. is a test of scaling it down.

    As an engineer, I’ve always appreciated GM’s approach. Hybrids are still in their early stages of deployment. It’s still the time to experiment with a variety of systems. GM has the mild, two mode, and the Volt. Almost everyone else has a Prius style solution (although there are a couple exceptions).

    The problem here, IMO, is GM’s vision is not long term. Sure, the early hybrids will have limited acceptance, and limited profitability. But, stay the course. Let it stick in peoples minds that there’s a Malibu hybrid. Now that they are taking it away, they will have to re-educate everyone that a Malibu hybrid does in fact exist when they re-introduce it. And that will mean… fewer sales than if they just stayed committed to a Malibu hybrid all the way.

  • Tony

    TOM:

    Why in the world would GM try to get the rights to use Toyota’s system when they are supposedly nearing production on a system of their own that would be superior to anything Toyota has in the pipeline?

    And if they were going to outsource, why would they go to Toyota when Ford has a superior system already in production in the Fusion Hybrid?

    The time to have outsourced would have been before they had invested oodles of money coming up with their own system. The time to have outsourced to Toyota would have been when Toyota had the best offering on the market. Neither of those conditions apply to GM right now.

  • JohnQuincyPublic

    The GM/Daimler/Chrysler/BMW 2-mode system mates two electric motors to a 4-speed automatic transmission, using two clutches to engage or disengage the electrical motors.

    As an engineer all I can say is that this setup is an overly-complicated kludge. This increases the part count, with more potential failure points.

    Compare that to the Toyota Prius transmission– Just 22 moving parts, no clutch, no gear-shifting wear-and-tear. That is why Toyota is able to bring their hybrid system cost down to affordable levels while ensuring the reliability of their Hybrid Synergy Drive.

    Ironic that the Power Split Device transmission at the heart of the Hybrid Synergy drive was originally developed by the American technology company TRW. How the PSD transmission works: http://www.eahart.com/prius/psd

    The only hybrid cars worth buying are those using the Power Split Device transmission– Hybrids built by Ford (yes, their hybrid system is almost the same as the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive), Toyota, Lexus, and Nissan (who licensed the HSD for use in the Altima Hybrid).

  • Kevin Webb

    Nobody wants these stupid hybrid cars. They break, they’re far more expensive in the long run, you can’t pass anyone on the highway, they aren’t safe and they cost too much.

    I’d rather rollerblade to work on one foot.

    KW