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New York show: Green Malibu targets Camry Hybrid

Economy leader: GM claims the Malibu hybrid uses less fuel than Toyota's rival Camry Hybrid.

Holden’s 2012 Epica replacement poised to offer an electric-assist variant

25 Apr 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in NEW YORK

HOLDEN is set to take on the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Mondeo diesel sometime next year or from 2013 with a special hybrid version of the upcoming Malibu.

The surprise eco model appeared at the New York International Auto Show last week, just days after the new American mid-sized sedan debuted in standard form at the Shanghai motor show.

Dubbed the 2.4-litre Eco eAssist in North America, where it will wear a Chevrolet badge, the new hybrid will be sold in most markets in the world that sell the new Malibu, according to Mark Moussa, GM’s global chief engineer for mid and full-sized passenger vehicles.

However, Mr Moussa would not reveal which turbo-diesel engine option will be available in the Malibu for Australia.

“There are additional powertrains to be offered in the future that we will announce in the coming months, but right now but I cannot tell you,” he told us.

The eAssist drivetrain in the Malibu employs a 134kW 2.4-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a compact and lightweight (29kg) 115-volt lithium-ion battery and a 15kW electric motor-generator pack, driving the front wheels via a ‘next-generation’ six-speed automatic transmission.

“With light electrification, it maintains the same levels of performance that exists in the non-eAssist Malibu, but it allows you to get it at much less cost in terms of the value and specification,” said Mr Moussa.

13 center imageFrom top left: The Chevrolet Malibu Eco model's interior, battery charge indicator and badging.

The standard Malibu is powered by a 141kW 2.5-litre direct-injection Ecotec four-cylinder petrol engine paired to a new 6T40 six-speed auto.

GM claims the Malibu Eco eAssist is capable of returning better than 6.2 litres per 100km on the US Highway Cycle, compared with 6.7L/100km for the US Camry Hybrid.

The Malibu Eco also includes regenerative braking (that captures up to 15kW of electricity to charge the battery), an auto-stop function, a hill-assist feature, and an aggressive fuel cut-off device during deceleration down to standstill.

Underscoring economy is an improved aerodynamic package over regular Malibus – including four underbody panels, low-resistance tyres, electronically controlled shutters in the lower grille that close at higher speeds for reduced air resistance, and an ‘eco’ gauge to promote more frugal driving.

GM claims a possible range of more than 880km from the 60-litre tank.

Asked about the rumoured Malibu wagon, Mr Moussa revealed that anything is possible, but refused to confirm the existence of such a model.

“Right now there is no plan in the rollout as we understand it today, but that’s not to say that there couldn’t be in the near future,” he said.

“We know how that changes depending on the market requirements. We will attend to the market’s requirements and needs as we continue to develop the demographic surrounding this particular platform. But right now we only have a four-door sedan that we are going to offer at the onset.”

The new Malibu is built on what GM calls its ‘Global Epsilon’ platform that was originally developed by Opel in Germany for the Insignia, which was launched in 2009 and is due in Australia next year. It has since spawned the Buick Regal and Buick La Crosse in China and North America.

Like the Insignia, the Malibu has a “very structurally stiff” platform for what Mr Moussa describes as “European levels” of handling and roadholding, with a MacPherson strut front end, multi-link rear suspension and a rack-mounted electric power steering system.

Mr Moussa said GM in Michigan is currently tuning the Holden version for Australia.

“Part of the development has been done in North America, but it is shared with regional development and validation, and (Chevrolet in Detroit) will do both. We are collaborating with the team at Holden to get that car ready (for Australia).”

Australian-bound Malibus will be built at the same GM Korea facility that brought us the disappointing Epica and will enter a mid-sized family sedan market that appears to be getting quite competitive.

In addition to the all-new Kia Optima, reskinned Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo EcoBoost, the next 12 months will also bring the Peugeot 506, Australian-built next-generation Camry/Camry Hybrid and possibly the Chrysler 200.

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