GM Plots Return to Mild Hybrids

Less than a year after pulling its mild hybrids off the market, General Motors announced that it will bring back the less expensive hybrid technology. According to Larry Nitz, G.M.’s executive director of hybrid and electric powertrain engineering, the carmaker is prepared to roll out the next generation of its mild hybrid technology on at least one mid-sized sedan next year. The new powertrain reportedly will be equipped with a lithium ion battery supplied by Hitachi, and will provide about four times as much power and will be 24 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter than previous mild hybrid battery packs.

Unlike a full hybrid system, a mild hybrid system cannot propel a vehicle on electric power alone. It only shuts off the gasoline engine when the car stops and then uses the batteries to restart the engine. The electric motor also provides a boost during acceleration.

When the Saturn Aura won “Car of the Year” at the 2007 North American Auto Show, and that model had a mild hybrid variant, it looked like G.M. might be getting ready to launch hybrids into its mainstream lineup. G.M. would eventually offer five mild hybrid vehicles: the Aura; the Saturn Vue Green Line; the Chevy Malibu hybrid; the Chevy Silverado hybrid; and the Buick Lacrosse EcoHybrid, which was sold only in China. But across all five models, the GM never produced more than about 15,000 vehicles per year and by summer of 2009, all had been canceled. (Beginning in 2009, Chevy switched the Silverado hybrid to a full-hybrid, its so-called “two-mode” hybrid system.)

Starting and Stopping

In June 2009, G.M. cited low sales as the reason for cutting the Malibu Hybrid.

When the Malibu Hybrid first launched, critics said the car didn’t deserve the hybrid name, because it only managed a 2-mpg jump to 24 in the city and 32 on the highway. The 2009 Malibu Hybrid managed a more respectable 4-mpg boost over the base-level Malibu. (Last year, G.M. dropped the entire Saturn brand, effectively killing the Saturn mild hybrids.) Regardless, consumers weren’t convinced to buy G.M.’s mild hybrid vehicles from either a value or fuel economy perspective. The Saturn Aura sold in the same price range as full hybrids like the Prius and Civic, which offered roughly 15 mpg more fuel economy. In order for G.M.’s mild hybrids to be competitive, it became clear that costs would have to be brought down and fuel economy gains would have to go up.

Back to the Drawing Board

From what little we know, G.M.’s new mild hybrid system seems more convincing. With increased torque and fuel economy gains of 15-20 percent, the outlook is significantly brighter than its predecessor. The new system is designed to be more versatile, allowing G.M. to attach it to a broader range of vehicles—including those with six-cylinder engines.

It’s not yet known which models might initially be fit with the system. Last year, Dan Hancock, vice president of powertrain engineering, indicated to reporters at the Geneva Auto Show that G.M. could be preparing to produce as many as 100,000 mild hybrids per year. That might just be a start. As federal CAFE standard gradually rises to 34.9 mpg by 2016, all automakers will be forced to find whatever means possible to increase fuel efficiency for all vehicle segments.

Given its investment and experience with mild hybrids, it makes sense for G.M. to bring back a new and improved version of the technology as a cost-effective way to increase fuel efficiency by 15 to 20 percent. However, it remains to be seen how G.M. will find a way to convince consumers to spend more money on these mild hybrids—especially because the cutting edge of green technology has shifted even beyond full hybrids to plug-in cars, such as G.M.’s own Chevy Volt. The key will be pricing: If G.M.’s new mild hybrids cost only a couple hundred dollars more than similar conventional models, while offering 20 percent better fuel economy, then the company might finally have the right formula for mainstream green.


  • Anonymous

    FAIL

    Just stupid decision that will end in failure and wasted tax payers money – time for the goverment to get out of this company and close it for good. No lesson learned, nothing to look forward to. There is just no hope for GM.

  • Anonymous

    > fuel economy gains of 15-20 percent,
    > the outlook is significantly brighter than its predecessor.

    That would still mean less than 4mpg improvemt if we assume a car with 20mpg average. I’m still not impressed.

  • Nelson Lu

    I still don’t think it’s the lack of fuel economy savings that caused the Malibu Hybrid to be a failure; it’s the decontenting that made it a worse vehicle than the regular Malibu. If the returning Malibu Hybrid is as good of a car as the regular Malibu while offering even slight fuel savings, it will do relatively well, even if not in the Toyota or Ford territory.

  • Nelson Lu

    Anonymous, the regular Malibu I4 gets 26 combined (22 city/33 highway). A Malibu Hybrid that does 15-20% better would average about 30 MPG. Still not as good as Ford/Hyundai/Nissan/Toyota, but if it can compete price-wise without decontenting (again, the Malibu Hybrid was terrible because GM stripped it of the Malibu’s best attributes), it can do reasonably well.

  • Anonymous

    > A Malibu Hybrid that does 15-20% better would average about 30 MPG

    30MPG COMBINED for a SMALL(!) car as hybrid is a joke. That would mean < <30 in the city.

    A new car has fullfull the following requirements if it should attract buyers:
    (1) good gas milage
    (2) good reliability (above average)

    If it does not fullfill those, I’m not even looking closer at it. Your example might be ok for (1) but given that it stinks at (2) it would be a no go.

    If you can’t deliver great gas milage, at least deliver good quality and reliablity. Why should I otherwise put my hard earned money down?

    Honestly, the only american car company that has a chance right now is Ford. They managed to improve there mpg numbers by a lot, their reliablity got so much better and they even produce good looking cars. So if you have to buy american to feel happy, buy Ford.

  • JamesDavis

    I agree. Let’s chose a car maker that is willing to convert to electric cars and put all our money into them. It is senseless to keep putting money into companies that insist on staying with fossil fuels. CO1 kills and it is time to get away from companies that insist on improving on fossil fuels. It kills our environment and it kills us. For a company unwilling to convert to electricity…eliminate them.

  • Nelson Lu

    Malibu is not a small car. It’s larger than the Prius that you seem to love.

  • Nelson Lu

    Not only that, but given that the Malibu is in the same size class as the Camry — from, of course, your beloved Toyota — if you think that it would be a joke for a hybrid to return 30 MPG combined, what are you going to call a Camry Hybrid that returns 33 combined?

  • Anonymous

    “Malibu is not a small car. It’s larger than the Prius that you seem to love.”

    exterior generally may be “larger”, but let’s compare the interior cargo room (which is a more important factor for most people if everything else being equal).

    2010 Prius:
    Luggage Capacity: 21.6 cu. ft. Maximum Cargo Capacity: 40 cu. ft.

    2010/2011 Malibu:
    Luggage Capacity: 15.1 cu. ft.

    prius seem plenty big to me…

    Source: http://www.edmunds.com/

  • Anonymous

    “Not only that, but given that the Malibu is in the same size class as the Camry — from, of course, your beloved Toyota — if you think that it would be a joke for a hybrid to return 30 MPG combined, what are you going to call a Camry Hybrid that returns 33 combined?”

    i know what i call it: an older generation car that still kicks new generation’s ass

  • Anonymous

    “GM Plots Return to Mild Hybrids”

    i predict the next headlines will be:
    “GM Plots Return to Bankruptcy”
    “GM Plots Return to Bailout”

  • Nelson Lu

    Anonymous writes:

    i know what i call it: an older generation car [referring to the Camry Hybrid] that still kicks new generation’s ass [referring to the hypothetical return of the Malibu Hybrid]

    The Camry Hybrid starts at $26,400. The comparable conventional Malibu — the 1LT trim — costs $22,715. Assuming a relatively small hybrid premium for the mild-hybrid Malibu — $800 has been suggested as a possibility — it will cost about $3,000 less than the Camry Hybrid. At that difference, there is no way that the Camry Hybrid will make sense over it with a mere 3-4 MPG advantage in fuel efficiency.

    But again, it depends on whether GM decontents the Malibu Hybrid again or not. If it does it again, it will fail again. If it handles it properly and prices it accordingly — in other words, make it a better rather than a worse version of the conventional Malibu — it should do well. It remains to be seen whether GM can do it. But I truly find the attitude of Toyota-worship here to be unseemly; Toyota no longer has the huge technological advantage it once had; Ford and Hyundai have both surpassed it in current/upcoming vehicles, and it remains to be seen if Toyota can get its advantage back with the next generation of hybrids.

  • Anonymous

    “At that difference, there is no way that the Camry Hybrid will make sense over it with a mere 3-4 MPG advantage in fuel efficiency.”

    that can be said about many hybrid vehicles including prius vs fusion vs vw TDI line. however, as many already pointed out within older posts from this site, fuel economy and price are merely two of many factors consumers will use to evaluate their choices. some may seem trivial to me but not for others.

    “But I truly find the attitude of Toyota-worship here to be unseemly; Toyota no longer has the huge technological advantage it once had; Ford and Hyundai have both surpassed it in current/upcoming vehicles, and it remains to be seen if Toyota can get its advantage back with the next generation of hybrids.”

    it’s simple really, build a vehicle that is better than the prius and consumers will go worship them. free market and time will be the true judge of success. toyota didn’t gain their reputation out of thin air just as gm didn’t fall just because of one bad product.

  • Charles

    The Malibu is a reliable car according to Consumer Reports, wel at least as reliable as a Camry. The Malibu V6 is rated the same as the Camry I4 and the Malibu I4 is rated the same as the Camry V6.

    If a reliable, safe mid-size sedan is what you are after buy the Ford Fusion. If you want the same in a hatchback buy the Prius.

  • Frank Filter

    People are so stupid here.. The only thing green about toyota is american money going to japan.

    Also the facts of luggage room are incorrect.

    Lets get the Facts

    This site is owned by Toyota so Toyota trolls are here making the Prius look bigger than a Malibu ????

    First of all the Prius is a hatchback you have to fold the seats down to get that room>??? DUH

    So lets use the back seat of the Malibu and see who wins

    I really hate Toyota people they think they are better than other people but they are just so so ignorant.

    Toyota is killing people with there cars they are engineered unsafe and they look like fish.

  • Cindy Carvel

    GM has always made better cars than Toyota.

    Its just now Toyota is loosing market share so they cant give heavy donations to consumer reports.

    So consumer Reports is lowering there recommendations also with all the law suites its making Consumer reports look bad because people are realizing how distorted the magazine is…

    My advise do not use consumer DISTORTS to buy a car then you will be ok.

    Because Consumer Reports and Toyota are the same company now.

  • Anonymous

    Frank Filter says:

    “Also the facts of luggage room are incorrect.
    Lets get the Facts
    This site is owned by Toyota so Toyota trolls are here making the Prius look bigger than a Malibu ????
    First of all the Prius is a hatchback you have to fold the seats down to get that room>??? DUH
    I really hate Toyota people they think they are better than other people but they are just so so ignorant.
    Toyota is killing people with there cars they are engineered unsafe and they look like fish.”
    ____

    dhu…. the cargo room is with the unfolded seats…. max cargo is with folded seats (http://alternativefuels.about.com/od/2010hybridreviews/ig/2010-Toyota-Prius-photos.-6Hz/2010-Prius-cargo-hold.htm)… dhu… me go fold seat now lol

    i suggest next time if you want to refute the facts, back it up with some of your own. stop hating and start seeing

    btw what do you have against fish?

  • Anonymous

    time for your pills cindy…

  • Bill Magnoel

    I always thought this site was a advertisement for toyota.

    I see the point but the cargo room of the Beloved Prius but

    You have to use up all your rear view to get it.

    So frank is right use up the room in the malibu to cover the rear window and BAM you have more room.

    Again I have to agree with frank this site is a sham. Comparing a hatch back to a car with a trunk is really silly.

    Anonymous does not use his name because he cant spell it.

    I also agree with cindy she needs asprin to deal with all you crazed consumer distorts folks.

    I own a Ford so I am not a GM or Toyota person. My feeling is Toyota is a car that seems very cheap. My friend got hit by a deer in his prius and the front end folded like tin foil

    I know they are light but toyota builds them really cheap. I will stick with my fords!!

  • Anonymous

    ohhh…. hope i didn’t hurt your feelings bill magnoel? (aka frank filter, cindy carvel, bill cosworth, and other alias) are we resorting to personal attacks when common logic does not make sense anymore? “cant” spell? ahhhhh… please stop! you are killing me, lol

    let’s examine your statements:

    “… use up the room in the malibu to cover the rear window and BAM you have more room”

    huh? how do you propose to do that for a trunk? you are right about the “BAM” part though. that might be the sound of your unsecured cargo falling on the floor.

    “Comparing a hatch back to a car with a trunk is really silly”

    obviously you didn’t bother to open your eyes to other people’s posts/ideas since the comparison was in reference to another post.

    “I own a Ford so I am not a GM or Toyota person.”

    owning a certain vehicle does not make you who you are. if owning a ford/toyota/whatever makes you feel bigger, good for you.

    “My feeling is Toyota is a car that seems very cheap. My friend got hit by a deer in his prius and the front end folded like tin foil”

    it’s called crumple zone buddy. it’s safer than using your face to cushion the impact. lots of cars have it. get used to it.

    again, stop hating and start seeing. peace out.

  • Old Man Crowder

    So anyways… Where were we??

    Oh yeah… GM is thinking about coming back with mild hybrids.

    How about we discuss the posted article, rather than everyone attacking everyone else’s opinions and perceptions? If you want to chat and debate, go to the Discussion Forum.

  • tapra1

    will provide about four times as much power and will be 24 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter than previous mild hybrid battery packs.Fast Newsletter