Chevrolet’s Malibu Eco, the mild hybrid, which represents the first of the 2013 Malibu models, is facing stiff competition, from the old conventional 2012 version.

With incentives on the 2012 to help dealers clear out old inventory, the new Eco, on sale since March, hasn’t got off to a good start, especially since it costs around $6,000 more than the old model.

Furthermore, with the base model will not be available until later this month and has been criticized for its cost and performance compared to “true” hybrid versions of such cars as the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and Toyota Camry. The Malibu is EPA rated at 29 mpg combined versus the Ford Fusion’s 39, Hyundai Sonata’s 37 and Camry Hybrid’s 41 mpg. What’s more, it’s only around $600 cheaper than the current Sonata Hybrid and its cousin, the Kia Optima Hybrid.

Additionally, with base models of these other cars, nearing the Malibu Eco’s fuel economy numbers (the regular Camry, Optima and Sonata get 28 mpg combined) and costing significantly less (well over $3,000 in most cases), GM’s strategy of introducing the Eco model six months before the conventional Malibu is so far proving to be more a hindrance than a benefit.

However, despite around 7,000 Eco models being sold from March through June, versus some 10,000 2012 Malibus, GM says sales are meeting expectations. Chevrolet’s director of marketing, Russ Clark, recently said, “the car’s performing about where we thought it would.”

If the base, 2.5-engine 2013 Malibu is able to deliver similar fuel economy numbers to the Camry and Sonata and also it’s Eco sister, things aren’t likely to bode well for the latter, especially given current economic conditions, where many car shoppers are looking to stretch a buck that much further.

However, Clark said the base Malibu won’t incorporate the same level of content as the Eco, which comes standard with the MyLink info entertainment system among other things. Still, if consumers continue to emphasize price (which means dealers will be less likely to sell more highly optioned models) and the popularity of full hybrids continues to grow, then its likely cars such as the Malibu Eco will have a rather short shelf life.

Automotive news via Auto Guide