Can Chevy’s 2013 Malibu Meet the Competition?

December 26th, 2011

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

Based on published figures, reading lots of reviews and my own biased opinions, Chevy is in for a tough ride if it expects its new Malibu to do well in the very competitive midsize field.

Here’s why: The new car is probably better than the present Malibu, but it’s not up to its competitors in either mileage or performance. It does have a better interior cabin and better steering and handling.

Chevy released the car in its mild-hybrid Eco form first, probably because the other two promised engines weren’t ready. These will likely be a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder (190 hp), due next summer, and a 2-liter turbo similar to what’s in Buick’s Regal (220-270 hp).

So the new Malibu Eco gets something called eAssist, a mild hybrid wherein an electric motor (15 hp) replaces the alternator to assist the gas engine (182 hp) and permit it to run slower, thus getting better mileage. But, “even with all its fancy hardware, the Malibu Eco’s estimated 25/37 mpg city/highway rating gets trampled in a segment chock full of hybrids.” The new Camry Hybrid gets 43/39 mpg for about the same price. See our take on that car here.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco interiorAnd the performance isn’t all that great either, although the car has been widely praised for its steering response. Where the Malibu could well attract new buyers is with its interior, which is much better than the current car’s. Reportedly, it’s very quiet and fitted out with good seats (though with less room in back), good materials and lots of standard equipment.

I think GM has clearly lost the race in designing the car’s exterior—which simply doesn’t compare to the offerings from Kia or Hyundai. We’ll see what Ford comes up with in its new Fusion and Hybrid. Even the Altima looks better.

The company seems to be following the pattern it took with the Cruze, making the car on a global platform—permitting lower design costs and more consistent tooling across its plants and making worldwide production easier and cheaper, achieving greater scale.

That makes sense if you take the corporate point of view. If you take the buyer’s point of view, who cares about economies of scale if you don’t get a more outstanding car for the money?

GM may be missing the forest for the trees on this one.

GM saw that the competition was eating its lunch in the midsize segment. So it rushed the Eco into production. Was that a mistake?

—jgoods

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  1. jgoods
    December 27th, 2011 at 13:30 | #1

    @ panayoti

    @ Randy
    Thank you, my boys, for your comments, thoughtful as always. You both seem to be on the same page here, which is essentially that GM is following the old rebadging game without doing any serious redesign work. I think you’re right. However, …

    GM did redesign and recraft the Cruze, which has had its success. If you look closely at the Malibu there’s a lot of “redesign,” though most are small changes, except for the Eco engine, which I think is a disaster.

    Where they really fell down is in the styling of the car, which indeed looks just like it simply cribbed the worst ideas from its competitors. Why couldn’t they have redesigned this thing from the ground up, like Jeep did with the Grand Cherokee? I think you have already given me the answer.

    One hopes that not all of GM’s cars end up this badly.

  2. Randy
    December 26th, 2011 at 21:59 | #2

    The biggest problem is going to be for chevy to field a “new” version of the Malibu that looks like everything else that Chevy is making. If the design was fresher, maybe it would work, but virtually everything you see rolling around on the road with a bowtie on the front looks like a malibaloon, with only different amounts of air pumped in to vary the size. Brand management, at least the way GM practices it, is a copout for not taking any risk in presenting new designs, and Chevy leads the way as the most boring, repetitions brand of all.

  3. panayoti
    December 26th, 2011 at 20:07 | #3

    Probably so. We’ve seen it with Toyota and Honda recently pushing out less than stellar model “upgrades” responding to pans by the automotive press and magazine/blog pundits. Its the classic GM ploy of trying to cut costs and push less than stellar cookie cutter platforms so they won’t have to upgrade their platforms. All this “global” platform stuff just doesn’t serve anybody very well. They’re just not willing to invest in R&D which is the only way they will succeed.

    When CR panned the Civic recently, Honda just about had an apoplectic fit and rushed out an announcement saying a newer better model would be coming out next year. Why the hell didn’t they just do what they’ve always done? Its the short term profit motive run amok that GM used to own, but now it seems even the foreigners are willing to try it.

    Hyundai and Kia are owning this market basically because they’ve pilfered the best auto designers from Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen. They’ve turned the design world upside down and now, ever scarier, is that they are making their own engines. With plants in Georgia and Alabama they gain even more competitive advantages because of this domestic supply chain that they’re building. We’ve seen what has happened to Toyota, Honda, Subaru, and less so Nissan with the Japanese earthquakes and nuclear disasters. Supply chains are destroyed or at least severely constrained giving the Korean automaker an even bigger advantage.

    As long as US automakers keep following the business plans developed in the 30s and 40s, we’re not going to see any dramatic production changes for quite a while. Though the government sponsored bailouts gave GM some breathing room, they continue to follow the rebadging nonsense, which helped eliminate Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, etc. We’ve seen our politicians continuing to follow outdated models and when some new young upstarts have the venture capital they need, I see domestic production continuing to plod along until their lunches are eaten by a new business model which is sure to come.

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