2010 Chevrolet Malibu Drops Hybrid: Here's Why

June 11, 2009

In these days when being green and getting good fuel mileage is all the rage, why would the Malibu Hybrid go missing from Chevy's 2010 lineup?

It seems strange, but really, it's not.

Way back in 2006, I was in the initial wave of journalists to drive the new Saturn Vue Green Line, the first hybrid to come out of General Motors. The four-cylinder "mild-hybrid" powertrain in the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line ended up in several other GM vehicles including the 2009 Malibu Hybrid.

2007 Saturn Vue Green Line

2007 Saturn Vue Green Line

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Thinking way back to 2006-07 (see the photo that I took for TheCarConnection's first review of the Green Line). The Toyota Prius had already been on the market as a full-blown hybrid, as was Ford with their hybrid version of the Escape. In the face of this competition, I asked GM engineers about why they took the mild-hybrid approach to the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line. The answer was that they were looking for a lower-cost alternative to going hybrid, and that they saw their approach as a stepping stone to the future.

As our own Bengt Halvorson explains in his Bottom Line for the 2009 Saturn Vue Green Line, "A 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine is mated to a "hybrid enabled" four-speed automatic transmission. A belt-alternator-starter (BAS) system helps recover energy from deceleration and braking, and it gives the engine a slight boost during acceleration. It also permits the engine to shut off at stoplights in drive, restarting it quickly when you back off the brake pedal. "

Because the mild-hybrid system won't actually propel the vehicle (only up to 3 mph), all of the "hybrid" components can be smaller, and therefore less costly. Smaller batteries. No special electric motor(s) in the transmission. You get the idea.

However, the mild nature of the mild-hybrid system was its undoing. Advances in transmission technology and the economies of scale that came with upgrading to more fuel-efficient six-speed automatic gearboxes in huge volumes have made the mild-hybrid system essentially obsolete because of cost. Engines are more efficient today as well, futher negating the value of GM's mild-hybrid system.

Regarding the Malibu specifically, the 2009 Malibu Hybrid achieved 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway. The 2010 Malibu non-hybrid fitted with the base four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic achieves 22 mpg city, 33 mpg highway. Chevrolet rightly decided that consumers would not see the value in paying approximately $2,000 more for the Hybrid badge and a minimal increase in mileage. We've also driven 2009 Malibu models with both powertrains and actually like the non-hybrid model better -- it's smoother and more refined.

Additionally, the Malibu Hybrid didn't do well in hybrid vs. hybrid comparisons. For example, the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid achieves  41 mpg city, 37 mpg highway. Consumers just look at both cars as "hybrids," and don't really care that one is mild and the other isn't.

So, in case you hear talking heads on TV spouting off about "Stupid GM Cancelling A Hybrid," now you'll know the rest of the story.

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