Don’t look for a 2014 Chevrolet Malibu fitted with General Motors’ e-Assist mild-hybrid system. The automaker revealed Wednesday that the mild-hybrid Malibu, previously sold under the Malibu Eco nameplate, has been discontinued for the 2014 model year.
That’s a pretty big change from GM’s original plans, which originally called for a version of the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu equipped with the eAssist powertrain. As recently as August, such a model was still planned for introduction, and given a price tag of $26,670, including destination charges.
That’s no longer the case. At a regional press event held in Michigan on Wednesday, Todd Pawlik, chief engineer for the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu, confirmed that the hybrid model is officially DOA.
Why the change in heart? It’s largely because the new base powertrain configuration, which includes a revised 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a new start/stop system, offers the nearly the same fuel economy as an eAssist-equipped Chevrolet Malibu. The new 2.5-liter driveline is EPA rated at 25/36 mpg city/highway, and a combined rating of 29 mpg. For reference, the 2013 Malibu Eco hybrid was rated at 25 mpg mpg city, 37 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined.
Although GM says its experience with the eAssist system helped expedite the development of the 2014 Malibu’s new start/stop system, the two drivelines share no common components and, apart from shutting down the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop, operate completely in completely different manners. The new start/stop system simply stops the engine while continuing to power to the vehicle’s electrical architecture. eAssist did the same, but its motor/generator assembly, which replaced the conventional starter motor, also helped provide a brief boost during hard acceleration.
There’s also a difference in battery configuration as well. The secondary battery in the 2013 Malibu Eco was a large 115-volt lithium-ion pack placed in the trunk, sacrificing nearly two cubic feet of cargo space. In contrast, the 2014 Malibu 2.5’s start-stop system uses a small, 12-volt, motorcycle-grade lead-acid AGM battery, which serves primarily to stabilize voltage while the engine is being restarted, neatly tucks into the trunk’s side wall without encroaching on space.
Better yet, the manufacturing cost for both this battery and the primary battery – a larger AGM unit placed underhood – is far less than the lithium-ion pack, meaning GM can bundle it with the 2014 Malibu as standard equipment on all models, including the entry-level $22,965 2014 Malibu LT.
Seeing as the 2013 Malibu Eco was unable to propel itself on electricity alone, we don’t think most customers will really notice a tremendous difference from how the 2014 Malibu 2.5 behaves. In fact, during a brief drive of the new 2014 model, we preferred the new start/stop system, as it starts and stops the combustion engine with more finesse than previous eAssist drivelines. As the eAssist system would have provided no real benefit yet inflated the MSRP by nearly $4000, GM clearly made the right decision in excising the hybrid from the 2014 Malibu lineup.
The advent of GM’s new start/stop system doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the eAssist powertrain altogether. Although it’s not presently available in the Malibu, it is still offered on the 2014 Chevrolet Impala, along with the 2014 Buick Regal and LaCrosse. GM representatives tell us a next-generation version of its eAssist system is being developed, though they won’t comment on a timeframe or application for its introduction. Likewise, proliferation of the 2014 Malibu’s new 2.5L and start/stop system is allegedly “under evaluation,” but officials refuse to name any potential applications.