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Chevrolet to offer 2016 Malibu hybrid

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

The next generation 2016 Chevrolet Malibu will come with a hybrid version with fuel economy ratings estimated better than 45 miles per gallon combined city and highway, General Motors Co. said Wednesday.

The new midsize hybrid Malibu will compete with hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata — all of which GM said have lower combined fuel economy ratings than what the Malibu hybrid will have. The car also will compete with the Honda Accord Hybrid, which is rated at 47 mpg combined.

"We're bringing a hybrid to the midsize segment to compete," said Jesse Ortega, Chevrolet Malibu chief engineer. "We understand this is a very competitive, significant battle. But we think we're very well-armed for this battle."

For the 2013 model year, GM offered a more expensive Malibu Eco model, which featured GM's eAssist technology. That included a small electric motor and lithium-ion battery to help improve fuel economy; about 10 percent of Malibu sales that year were Ecos.

The 2016 Malibu hybrid features a new, direct injection 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that works with a two-motor drive unit modified from the 2016 Chevrolet Volt. GM said the drive unit gives the Malibu additional power during acceleration, allowing for up to 182 horsepower.

"We're building on the Volt," Ortega said, adding GM took systems from the Volt for the Malibu.

Electric power comes from a new, 1.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack with 80 cells. GM said the lithium-ion chemistry can power the hybrid Malibu at up to 55 miles per hour on electricity; the gasoline engine automatically kicks on when more power is needed, such as at higher speeds.

The Malibu hybrid engine also features exhaust gas heat recovery technology, a Chevrolet first, to use exhaust heat to warm the engine and inside of the car. GM said the technology can improve the engine's warm up and "consistent fuel economy performance in cold weather."

The hybrid car also features a regenerative braking system, which allows energy recovered during braking to help maintain the battery's charge.

GM said the Malibu hybrid will be built at the company's Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kansas. It's due in showrooms in spring 2016. Pricing has not been announced.

How well the hybrid-version Malibu will sell will depend on "actual pricing and MPG," said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book. Brauer said cheap gasoline prices and gasoline vehicles getting better mileage have squeezed some hybrid sales.

Automakers face federal fuel economy standards of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 and can't afford not to develop and bring technology to market, said Stephanie Brinley, a senior analyst for IHS Automotive.

The company will reveal the 2016 Malibu next week during press days at the New York International Auto Show. The Malibu has a new architecture, longer wheelbase and increases rear legroom and interior space. The car also is expected to be 300 pounds lighter than the current generation Malibu.

GM's Malibu sales fell 6 percent last year to 188,519 and sales through February this year are down 11.7 percent to 25,849.

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