With the Return of $4 Gas, GM Again Looks to Mild Hybrids

Last week, General Motors unveiled the first Chevy-brand model to use the company’s new eAssist technology, the 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco. The car will get an estimated 26 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway, making it among the most efficient mid-size vehicles available without a full hybrid system—or a full hybrid premium.

The rebirth of GM’s mild hybrid technology coincides with rising gas prices, at a time when more mainstream consumers are looking to increase the fuel economy of their vehicles. In 2009, Chevy abruptly discontinued the original Malibu hybrid, which featured the much-maligned first-generation Belt Alternator Starter (BAS) system, an inexpensive but relatively ineffective fuel-saving system that failed to impress critics or consumers.

But as fuel costs approach the $4 mark for the first time since 2008, GM completed a round of extensive tweaking with mild hybrids, and is preparing to launch variants of both the Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal featuring eAssist in the next year, followed by the Malibu Eco and other platforms soon. Automotive News reports this week that the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain are among several vehicles being considered for eAssist, quoting a top executive who said that GM has been convinced by recent buyer behavior that consumers will continue to flock to offerings with better fuel economy.

eAssist couples a regenerative breaking system featuring a 0.5-kWh lithium-ion battery and more powerful electric motor with a 4-cylinder gas engine and computer-controlled idle-start system. Though eAssist is still technically a Belt Alternator Starter, the increased energy storage capacity in the second-generation BAS system allows it to provide much more assistance to the gasoline engine—helping to create the impressive fuel economy gains seen in the Malibu and LaCrosse.

Will GM’s Mild Hybrid Redux Be Better Received?

Can the new wave of eAssist mild hybrids—which have been strategically branded to avoid any mention of the word “hybrid”—triumph where their predecessors failed? Early reviews of the LaCrosse are positive. At just a 10 percent price premium, the LaCrosse delivers nearly a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy—flipping the equation on the first generation of mild hybrids.

The improvements in efficiency and cost could put MPG numbers that were previously unattainable for many consumers—thanks to the higher price premium for similar mid-sized full hybrids—into play for the first time. “Not everyone can afford those. We know that,” GM North American president Mark Reuss said to Auto News. “The customer base finds cars like this very attractive because they pay for themselves.”


  • Nelson Lu

    26/38 is very nice as long as the cost is low. The thing is, though, as the price of gas goes up, the case for full hybrids (and EVs) will continue to get better, while eAssist will only do so much given its relative weakness in gas savings. I still don’t understand why GM and Honda won’t go for full hybrids. Is that they are technically unable to do so?

    In any case, I *understand* Reuss’s necessity for making the statement, as PR, of “Not everyone can afford [full hybrids]. We know that.” As gas prices go up, the question will become, “Not everyone can afford” *not* going to into a full hybrid/EV.

  • Capt. Concernicus

    I understand that some people just can’t afford a new hybrid, but there are used ones out there. The only real problem is that the people who are selling them know that they can command a higher resale price for them because they achieve relatively high to high MPG’s.

    Now if people were smart they would have been watching the trend in oil and gas prices for the last 5 years or so. Those that knew that the $147 a barrel in 2008 was no blip on the radar knew it was a trend went and bought a hybrid in 2009 when gas prices tumbled to 5 year lows in Feb-2009. Especially when financing was so in favor of the consumer. Unfortunately most people thought the era of cheap gas was back and pick-up/SUV sales were up. Well now we’re back and high gas prices are here to stay. I bought my 2nd gen Prius not too long ago and boy am I glad I did.

    Now 38 mpg hwy isn’t too bad, but I can do that (and better) all day long in the city. Considering most people are driving during the rush hours (5 days a week) and in towns and suburbs the 38 mpg number becomes more of a non-factor and the 26 mpg is the number that becomes relevant. The Prius gets 51 cty and with gas prices only going up at what point does the Prius become worth it over these mild “hybrids”.

    Gas would have to be $9.17 a gallon to make me spend $100 to fill up. How about you?

  • 54mpg

    “Gas would have to be $9.17 a gallon to make me spend $100 to fill up. How about you?”

    My Prius III takes around 8.5 gallons after around 450 miles. So gas will have to be $11.76/gallon for me to spend $100 on a fill up.

  • jims1961

    There is more than just the material added cost of a full hybrid system. Anyone using the two motor and planetary gear set system such as used by Ford and Toyota must pay the patent holder. I read this somewhere but I forgot the details of who actually owns the patent.

  • jims1961

    The additional cost of the full hybrid system used by Ford and Toyota is more than just the physical components. Anyone using this system must pay the patent holder, Paice LLC.

  • Joe

    Good thing I have a Prius IV. ; )

  • James Davis

    And GM calls 26MPG fuel efficient???

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @54MPG,

    Your fuel tank should hold either 10.9 gallons or 11.9 gallons. Unless you have the 1st gen Prius…then I don’t know how many gallons that holds.

    Obviously with a bladder that amount it holds varies a little depending on the weather, but to hold only 8.5 gallons, that seems awfully low.

  • Anonymous

    with these type of thinking and lesson not learned, it perplexes me to no end that people continues to buy gm stocks and expects the gov to bail them out when they fail…

  • Dave2

    “I still don’t understand why GM and Honda won’t go for full hybrids”

    I do. They’re just not worth the cost. Maybe someday, but definitely not now. Wake up and face the facts of the market. I can’t believe you wouldn’t jump on the band wagon for a mild cost effective hybrid. 38 mpg on the highway for a mid size car, and 26 in town, that’s pretty impressive.

  • Dave2

    You don’t think 26 mpg in town is fuel efficient for a mid size car? This is not a Fiat 500 or something, it will carry real life size people!!

  • Capt. Concernicus

    “You don’t think 26 mpg in town is fuel efficient for a mid size car? This is not a Fiat 500 or something, it will carry real life size people!!”

    –Well I personally don’t find 26mpg in town that fuel efficient. It’s better than some family cars that get only 20 or 22mpg, but in all seriousness 26mpg isn’t substantially better. It’s not bump up in MPG’s that a normal family of 4 is going to say to themselves, “Wow, we’re really saving some money aren’t we?”

    Now personally coming from a Pontiac Grand Prix with a supercharged V-6 (now totalled r.i.p.) and buying a 2nd gen Prius was a big difference in MPG’s. Both cars carry 4 people comfortably, but the Prius is averaging exactly double my old GP mpg’s (24.4 vs. 48.8). I notice that bump in fuel savings at the pump. Sure I don’t have 240hp/280tq at my disposal anymore, but I do have xenon headlights, XM radio, 8 speaker w/sub JBL radio set up, keyless start etc.

    Also a Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and soon Hyundai Sonata all have hybrids that carry 4 people comfortably and will get you 30+MPG’s in town. So it can be done. Why GM is wasting time dilly dallying with mild hybrids is confusing at best. Didn’t they learn their lesson the last time they tinkered with mild hybrids?

  • Rico

    “You don’t think 26 mpg in town is fuel efficient for a mid size car? This is not a Fiat 500 or something, it will carry real life size people!!”

    Fusion Hybrid gets 41 MPG, City.

  • Anonymous

    Sadly the early review (per link in article) from GreenCarReports *does not* provide the fuel mileage they experienced.

    “But as fuel costs approach the $4 mark for the first time since 2008, GM completed a round of extensive tweaking with mild hybrids, and is preparing to launch variants of both the Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal featuring eAssist in the next year, followed by the Malibu Eco and other platforms soon.”

    The problem is: when will Malibu Eco be available?

    What I see is, there’s just more talk and marketing hype from GM, which I’m not surprised.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm, does it come with at least a space saver spare tire?

    According to Consumerreports.org – ‘Hyundai Elantra leaves me flat’:
    “… I’ve had many flat tires before. In years past, I’ve had several in a day when driving for photography. They were always a 10-minute fix, with a little dirt, sweat, and satisfaction along the way. Not this time. Today, it was a four-hour project. The Elantra has a cost- and weight-saving repair kit in lieu of a spare tire.

    [It eventually made the author to have the car towed to a dealer and costed a total of four hours.]
    The dealership staff reasoned that it was omitted to enable the car to hit the magical 40 mpg highway figure. The replacement tire cost $131 and the repair kit fluid was a painful $94. (Mind you, a can of Fix-A-Flat is just $6.) …”

  • Ryan

    GM has always been ahead in innovation from its competitor.What i liked most of the GM cars are their design and above all the fuel efficiency.But i am bit disappointed because its very hard to understand why dont the GM goes for a full hybrid solution.Anyway this technique will improve the fuel efficiency but not by much.I think they can improve upon the delay timer switch and do some research on it.Looking forward for fully hybrid solution from GM in the future.