Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid entered the market

Posted by admin | General Motors | Tuesday 30 September 2008 4:43 pm

The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid entered the market in 2008 as direct competition to the Toyota Camry Hybrid. The Malibu Hybrid is a stylish five-door mid-size sedan—but as a mild hybrid, the fuel economy compared with the gas-powered Malibu was a very modest 2-mpg jump to 24 in the city and 32 on the highway.

For 2009, the Malibu Hybrid is rated at 26 city and 34 highway—meaning a much healthier 4-mpg boost over the base-level Malibu. The difference in the lowest end MSRP between the two vehicles remained the same. The conventional Malibu starts at $20,745, while the Chevy Malibu Hybrid starts at $24,695. In other words, the cost per mpg improvement was cut in half.

“The hybrid improvement is primarily the result of new battery charging control software that reduces load on the engine, and the hybrid also uses new 17-inch low rolling resistance tires,” GM spokesperson, Nancy Libby, told Hybridcars.com. “They were 16-inch tires in 2008.”

The 2009 Malibu Hybrid continues to fall short of the Camry Hybrid’s EPA rating of 33 in the city, but now matches the Camry’s 34 mpg on the highway. The base level MSRP for the Toyota Camry Hybrid is $26,150—$1,500 higher than the Malibu Hybrid.

Based on GM’s long-wheel based Epsilon platform, the 2009 Malibu Hybrid’s powertrain is defined by a 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine and a 36-volt electric starter-motor-generator tied to a nickel metal hydride battery pack. Output stands at 164 horsepower, plenty for a car of its size and weight. Energy is channeled through a smooth-shifting four-speed transmission.
The 2009 Chevrolet Malibu In the Real World

We took the 2009 Malibu Hybrid on a 156-mile loop from Strasburg, Penn., to Washington, DC, and then back north to Towson, Md. The route was comprised of approximately 60 percent highway driving, 25 percent country road, and 15 percent in-town or urban traffic. To inform the driver of how the hybrid system is operating, the Malibu Hybrid offers a simple gauge with an “Eco” indicator and a “power assist” needle.

Our combined fuel economy on this mixed test was 29.8 miles per gallon. For comparison, our mixed driving test of the Toyota Camry Hybrid earlier this month resulted in fuel economy of 35.2 miles per gallon. Based on this cycle, Toyota’s full hybrid had a clear advantage.

The 2009 Malibu Hybrid, like its conventional variant, handles well. It maneuvers nimbly in traffic and responds quickly to driver inputs—even better than the Camry. The Malibu Hybrid’s longer wheelbase lends itself to a comfortable ride, making it a competent car for longer daily commutes. The overall driving comfort of the Camry is hard to beat though.

Consumers might also want to consider that the Malibu Hybrid offers a $1,300 tax credit, which Toyota hybrids no longer carry.

The current credit crisis—with or without a $700 billion bailout—has already spread from Wall Street to commercial banks, and from the financial sector to other parts of the economy, including to the auto industry. Here’s how the credit crunch is impacting key players in the hybrid vehicle market.
Consumers Are Staying Home

While demand for hybrids remains strong, the overall vehicle market is shrinking. Some analysts are predicting that this month’s sales will be off as much as 25 percent from last year. One of the biggest issues is tighter credit and lending standards. Many buyers can’t qualify for financing, or must pay more for their car loans; in addition, leasing has been discontinued for many domestic models.

The result is that it is more difficult and costly to get consumers into new vehicles. To make matters worse, fewer people are shopping. Some buyers are postponing big purchases in anticipation of an economic downturn, while others have lost jobs or homes and are struggling just to make the payments on vehicles they already own. In this climate, hybrid sales could suffer if consumers continue staying home—or if they opt for cheaper, no-frills vehicles rather than cutting-edge technology.
Dealers Are Getting Squeezed

Many car dealers were already suffering before the recent market downturn. With fewer shoppers on their lots, things have gone from bad to worse. To compound the problem, dealers are now struggling to maintain their own credit. Dealerships use what is called “floorplanning” financing: they buy vehicles for their inventories using credit from banks or captive finance companies. Recently GMAC, Chrysler Financial, and others began raising floorplanning interest rates, a move that squeezes dealer profits and makes sellers think twice about stocking expensive vehicles.

In the future, expect to see dealers use more caution in ordering new, unproven hybrid, electric and alternative fuel models. You can also expect to see more dealers throwing in the towel. The country’s largest volume Chevrolet dealer—Columbus, Ga.-based Bill Heard Enterprises, founded in 1919—shut its doors last week as rising floorplanning costs and falling sales eroded profits on the 88,000 vehicles it sold each year.
Manufacturers Lack Investment Funds

Auto companies live on credit, both in the short-term to sustain operations and in the long-term to invest in new vehicles and manufacturing facilities. For some, that credit has nearly dried up. Two weeks ago, General Motors made a $3.5 billion withdrawal from an existing credit line, raising concerns about the company’s long-term liquidity.

While GM still has billions in the bank, the company burned through more than $7 billion in the first half of the year. And the spending isn’t scheduled to stop. GM will spend nearly $400 million on a new plant to make small engines for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and other vehicles. GM, Ford, and Chrysler—with its big plans for electric cars—are hoping that loans from the federal government will replace some of the financing that’s been lost from private sector banks. But if federal loans don’t come through in a timely manner, some new vehicles requiring a lot of R & D spending could be in jeopardy.
Battery Manufacturers Lack Access to Credit

Batteries are a key component in hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, but developing new battery technologies and manufacturing them on a large scale is capital-intensive. A single manufacturing facility can cost $150 to $300 million, and that’s after a company has spent millions to create a viable product. Like the automakers, battery companies now have less access to credit, which means it’s harder for them to invest in new facilities or expand existing plants. The challenge is greatest for smaller companies such as A123 Systems. While their innovative battery designs may hold the most promise for making plug-in hybrids a reality, small battery companies cannot be successful unless they can build the facilities needed to guarantee a reliable supply to large OEMs.

In contrast, large battery makers such as Panasonic EV (a joint venture between Toyota and Matsushita) may have an advantage in the current era. With access to capital from large corporate parents, these firms are better positioned to make new investments in production, allowing them to continue their dominance of hybrid battery markets.
After the Storm Clears

Fear of economic recession has brought oil prices back to earth. Although crude remains above $100 per barrel, US gas prices have settled at under $4 a gallon. While consumers are not likely to forget this summer’s pain at the pump, interest in fuel-saving technologies like hybrids will ride up and down with gas prices. Yet, the long-term forecast is for sustained and consistently rising gas prices. So the looming question is which auto companies will best be able to weather the storm—and to emerge ready to deliver hybrids and other advanced fuel-saving vehicles when consumers return to dealerships demanding high-mpg vehicles.

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