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.”