I would love to buy American, but I need some help here, guys. The great product has to be in the showrooms. Let me first say that the Chevrolet Malibu is the best thing General Motors has introduced in years, proof that there’s still life in the old warrior — and offering hope that the company can reinvent itself when it emerges from bankruptcy soon.
That said, GM’s hybrid strategy has always baffled me. It was hardly a surprise when the company killed the hybrid version of the Malibu, since it offered such a limited value proposition. The Malibu hybrid achieved 26 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway (29 combined). For $3,000 extra, the customer got a car with only 4 percent better fuel economy than its conventional $20,000 cousin. The Malibu qualified for a $1,300 federal tax break, but that wasn’t enough of an incentive to distract consumers from, say, the 50 mpg 2010 Toyota Prius.
The Saturn Vue Hybrid is also headed out of the GM stable. In fact, the whole Saturn line is being bought by Smart importer Roger Penske.
The “mild” hybrid system in the Malibu produced a “green” car for Casper Milquetoast. Who wants “mild” when Toyota and Honda are offering he-man hybrids on steroids? With the demise of the Malibu, the only hybrids left in the GM arsenal are big trucks. And these get pretty anemic mileage, 21 combined in the two-wheel-drive versions of the Chevy Silverado and Tahoe.
The irony here is that the sophisticated two-mode system in the Tahoe (and the GMC Yukon) is actually pretty good, but the vehicle is just so big and heavy that there isn’t much advantage. If they’d just put the two-mode system in the Malibu to begin with they might not be canceling it now.
GM’s argument has been that Americans buy a lot of big trucks, and a 25 percent fuel economy benefit there would make a huge difference. But only if people are buying them, and that hasn’t really been the case — the Tahoe Hybrid is more than $50,000. If I was GM, I’d clone the $19,800 Honda Insight: A small, affordable and versatile hybrid with a scaled-down version of the two-mode system would probably sell.
GM is introducing a new generation of hybrids next summer, but it’s not saying which vehicles will be hybridized.