Making an Improved Malibu
Once upon a time, not so very, very long ago, the approach that was taken by automakers when it came to lukewarm (at best) reception to their vehicles was to keep producing them but provide monetary incentives to try to move the metal. Sure, there were the midcycle enhancements. But overall, these efforts really weren’t game changers, unless that game was one of “Let’s see how little we can really do” or “How to put lipstick on a pig.”
Which is to say that fundamental engineering changes generally weren’t part of the equation.
Chevy Malibu sales have not been all that robust. That is, January through August, GM has sold 140,463 Malibus, which is down 16.5% compared to the same period last year. By way of comparison, Ford Fusion sales are up 13.4% January through August 2013 vs. 2012, and stand at 206,321 units.
One might think that the people at GM might turn a blind, benign eye toward Malibu and add a trim package. It wouldn’t be wholly unreasonable.
So credit has to be given to GM because for the 2014 Malibu, which will be going on sale this fall, they are providing start-stop technology as standard on the entry-level 2.5L model.
That’s right: standard start-stop on the base model. Generally, the idea is to put the good stuff on higher-trim models in order to gain more revenue by driving people to have to pay for the fancier wheels or audio system or what-have-you. But not on the base. And not as a standard.
Start-stop isn’t without additional cost. For one thing, there is an additional 12-volt battery that’s located in the trunk to run accessories when the engine is shut off. What’s more, the primary battery and the starter are both more robust than the norm given that they’ll be experiencing a much-more-demanding duty cycle.
Speaking of the system, Todd Pawlik, Malibu chief engineer, said, “They key was to apply the knowledge we gained form our eAssist technology.” eAssist, offered on the Malibu Eco, uses an induction motor-generator and lithium-ion battery pack to allow the vehicle to be more fuel efficient while not having a deleterious effect on performance. Pawlik continued, “By leveraging knowledge form the stop-start system we use on eAssist, we were able to significantly improve city fuel ratings by 3 mpg, or 14%, on Malibu’s entry-level 2.5L model, compared to the 2013 model.” Which is no small feat.
They’re also using a new six-speed transmission (6T45), which is engineered so the amount of energy needed for pumping the fluid is reduced, and Intake Valve Lift Control, which operates in low-lift mode so that the engine pumps the minimal amount of air required under the driving conditions, again a fuel save.
Overall, a much improved effort compared with adding some chrome-colored plastic bits and a pile of incentives (which may seem nice when buying the car, but which shoot residual values way, way down, so you lose when you drive the car off the dealer’s lot).
Dan Nicholson is vice president of General Motors Global Propulsion Systems, the organization that had been “GM Powertrain” for 24 years.
The little car that could still can. And this time as a car that not only gets great fuel economy, but which has ride and handling that makes it more than an econo-box (and its styling is anything but boxy).
It’s the fifth generation of a vehicle that has been increasing in sales year after year since its introduction in 1997.