Home / Auto News / News article: Feature: GM’s eAssist Hybrid Bet Doesn’t Pay Off - AutoGuide.com News
 |  Jul 17 2012, 1:01 PM

Currently available on three models, GM’s eAssist technology is a product and packaging gamble the automaker has made that does not appear to be paying off. While the first two Buick models to receive the mild-hybrid system received modest praise, the new Chevy Malibu Eco has drawn so much criticism it was recently named “the most disliked vehicle of 2012” according to Fortune magazine.

The impact of that title, not to mention all the bad press that’s led up to it, can’t be understated. The reputation, and sales, of an entire lifecycle of Malibu models (the Malibu being one of GM’s largest volume products) is hanging in the balance.

Most successful hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, use a full-hybrid system, which means that electric motors can provide enough power to move the vehicle, and generally speaking the improvement in fuel economy is more significant. The eAssist system, however, makes due with a more basic layout, with the electric motor assisting the gasoline engine, but never actually powering the car by itself.

So why did General Motors avoid the traditional route and create a mild-hybrid, instead of a full one?


 “We looked at what was coming in electrification in the next 10 years or so and there’s a lot of full hybrids, electric vehicles and range extended EVs coming, and we found that there are still significant cost premiums for those vehicles,” explained Stephen Poulos, chief engineer of eAssist. “We wanted to see how we could take some of those functions, and get it down to a very basic system that we can adapt to otherwise conventional powertrains.”

GM says that even without using a complicated full-hybrid system, a vehicle with eAssist can get 15-25 percent better fuel economy than their vehicles that aren’t equipped with eAssist.

“Our goal was to be able to integrate with the minimum amount of tear-up,” said Polous in regards to eAssist’s development. “It’s something that is fairly adaptable to different vehicles.”

So far, GM has managed to put eAssist into family-sized sedans like the Chevrolet Malibu Eco, Buick Lacrosse and Buick Regal. These cars all fit in segments where comfort, cargo space and fuel economy are important factors. One key feature of the eAssist system is its size, being small enough to have little effect on trunk space and still allow for folding seats – at least on one side.

The components that make up eAssist are chosen due to their ability to be easily implemented into an established vehicle. eAssist is made up of just a 15-kW belt-driven motor/generator as well as a compact 115-v lithium ion battery pack. All those electric components are paired with a conventional 2.4-L four-cylinder engine, and a slightly modified six-speed automatic.

“The scaling required to make a full-hybrid system is huge, and very costly.” Poulos says. With eAssist, GM is making a versatile powertrain that could theoretically move into other vehicles.


All this means that the development and assembly of eAssist vehicles should be cheaper, and should make eAssist vehicles less expensive than a full-hybrid rival. However, the Malibu Eco, which is equipped with the eAssist system, isn’t making a strong case for itself.

At $25,235, the Chevrolet Malibu Eco is $465 cheaper than the Kia Optima Hybrid, $615 cheaper than the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, $755 cheaper than the Toyota Camry Hybrid and $3,540 cheaper than the Ford Fusion Hybrid, all of which use full-hybrid systems. While the Malibu does cost less than all its rivals, with the exception of the Ford, the difference is not significant.

In terms of efficiency, eAssist is also on rocky ground. In regards to weight, a mild-hybrid is supposed to be lighter, which would make the engine work less, and improve efficiency.

For example, in the Toyota Camry Hybrid, the full hybrid system uses a large 105-kW electric motor and a 245-volt Nickel-Metal Hydride battery (compared to eAssists’ 15kW motor and 115-volt battery pack.) These two items in the Camry take up precious space and required unique engineering in order to place them optimally in the car without disturbing weight balance. Since the Malibu Eco uses a smaller motor, and a smaller battery, it should weigh less, and doesn’t need as much re-tooling to get the system in there.

Unfortunately, while the system may weigh less, the car does not. While the Malibu Eco is 100 lbs lighter than the Ford Fusion Hybrid, it’s also 130 lbs heavier than the Optima Hybrid, 42 to 163 lbs heavier than the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and 179 to 203 lbs heavier than the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

This helps identify the final issue with eAssist: fuel economy. The Malibu Eco is officially rated at 25 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, earning a combined rating of 29 mpg. The competition, on the other hand, gets significantly better ratings all around. The Kia Optima Hybrid, and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid are both rated at 35/40 mpg city/highway, with a combined rating of 37 mpg. The Ford Fusion Hybrid is rated at 41/36 mpg city/highway and 39 mpg combined. Finally, the Toyota Camry Hybrid is rated at 43/39 mpg city/highway with a combined rating of 41 mpg.

That’s a huge difference, and it should come as no surprise that GM seems to be straying away from calling these cars hybrids.


Polous explains that eAssist is really not aiming to compete with these products. “We’re trying to sell the base vehicle,” said Polous “we’re purposely trying not to go head-to-head against these full hybrid systems.”

That’s a tough argument to make when the pricing is so close to the full hybrid competition.

Rather, says Polous, with eAssist GM is looking to redefine a base powertrain. “The mission of eAssist is to upgrade, or replace the base powertrain,” he says. And while that might be true on the new Buick LaCrosse, it’s a $2,000 option on the Regal and is sold as an entirely separate Chevy Malibu Eco model, which will gain a non-hybrid 2.5-liter base model this year.

As for the non-hybrid models of the Malibu Eco’s competition, they all get around 28 mpg combined, except for the Ford Fusion, which gets 23 mpg. That means that the Malibu has better fuel economy by 1 mpg against the base Camry, Optima and Sonata, and 6 mpg more than the Fusion.

That sounds like a win for the Malibu, but then again, compare the prices of these vehicles. The Malibu Eco at $25,235 is $4,035 more than the base Optima, $4,340 more than the base Sonata, $4,530 more than the Ford Fusion, and $3,180 more than the Toyota Camry.

Perhaps one area where GM can succeed with its eAssist technology is in attracting buyers hesitant to adopt hybrid technology. In fact, GM has even gone so far as to avoid any use of the word hybrid in its literature. Still, with the Toyota Prius now ranked as one of the world’s best selling cars this year, consumer opinions about hybrid technology appear to have already changed.


GM’s mild-hybrid gamble does not appear to be paying off, not for the consumer, and not for the automaker either. As mentioned, it has taken a beating in the press, including here at AutoGuide where we wrote, “Priced at $25,995 the Malibu Eco isn’t exactly a value leader, especially when you consider the hybrid Sonata and Camry both get considerably better fuel economy and cost about the same.” None of this can be good for sales.

Reviews of the Buick models proved more favorable, though as we pointed out in our Regal eAssist review, that is due in part to a lack of competition in the segment.

The upcoming non-eAssist Malibu may prove to be the ultimate test for the mild-hybrid system. The gasoline-exclusive Malibu will use a 2.5-liter engine, and if the EPA fuel ratings are comparable to the eAssist model, it could spell death for the mild-hybrid system, and could foreshadow the upcoming strategy for the Buick vehicles as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Clem-Zahrobsky/100002186754538 Clem Zahrobsky

    i think GM does not have a true hybrid system and does not want to pay another car company to use their system. they put all their eggs in the volt system and it is too expensive. GM likes to be different,remember when every GM car line had a different automatic transmission ??

  • Chad

    …uhm… compare the standard equipment, maybe?

  • Youngs98

    So the eAssist’s only competition is the base model of the same car?  Yep, not a good recipe for success.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Watkins/629637578 Daniel Watkins

    These GM mild hybrid cars look even worse against the 2013 Fusion Hybrid, which is supposed to get 44MPG Highway, 47MPG city!

  • http://twitter.com/BenGaieck Ben Gaieck

     I dunno, I think 10-15% improved mileage is nothing to sneeze at.   All increased fuel economy technology costs money .  It’s all a matter of how much you want to pay for how much better fuel economy. 

  • D’Hag

    Would be awfully hard for me to look at one of these, when my ’05 Impala, a larger and more comfy car, gets 34 mpg in my “real-life combined” driving.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RL7EFOWG475XZ67OHI7A5APFRY Bob

    First of all, the Fortune magazine article quoted in this piece was actually BS written by a known GM hater. The Malibu ECO might be “most disliked” by him, but I haven’t seen actual “dislike” in the press over the new Malibu. Looks like Autoguide is just trying pump up a non-story to see how much traction they can give it, and I certainly question their motives. 

    The Malibu eAssist is at the very least a good entry in its segment. If this exact same car at the exact same price came in from a Japanese or European manufacturer, you can bet your house the spin in the press would be a whole lot different.

  • http://twitter.com/cwerdna Andrew C

    They do have one.  It’s the two-mode system that ends up in full-sized SUVs and trucks e.g. Tahoe Hybrid, Escalade Hybrid, Yukon Hybrid.  It apparently is too expensive to put in smaller/cheaper vehicles.  Their partners BMW and DaimlerChrysler pulled out and stopped using it, leaving GM the only ones using it.

    The ’12 Escalade Hybrid 4WD is EPA rated at 20 city/23 highway, 21 mpg combined and has an MSRP starting at $73K.  Tahoe Hybrid’s cheaper, starting at $52K.  Mileage for the Tahoe Hybrid 2WD and 4WD is the same as the Ice Capade.

  • Harv

     Funny, the Fortune story outlines numerous other outlets that ripped on the Malibu. Even the Autoguide story isn’t THAT critical. It makes a lot of good points and mostly just has issue with the fuel economy.

  • Bob

    More crap from Government Motoers

  • sherwool


      It would be of interest if, instead of simply casting aspersions about the messenger, you could offer some criticism of the writer’s claims.

  • Edmarch1

    GM is in the hands of the Bean counters and Widget engineers. There products are second or even third place in terms of real value and innovation. I know, I unfortunately purchase a 2012 Tahoe LTZ which is VERY old school and VERY dated technology. I has a superficial layer of technolgy to distract buyer from it’s 1990′s origins. This product reminds of the 1974 Chevy Vega I bought from GM that was a total LOSER!   

  • http://twitter.com/LuvGermanCars Luv German Cars

    Rather have a diesel in these cars than anything hybrid; mild or not I don’t care for this stuff. 

  • Cars_Simplified

    You’d think that an eco car wouldn’t need so much plastic garbage under the hood.

  • http://postcanyontrading.com/ Cari Machado

    the base model of the same car?  Yep, not a good recipe for success.

  • GarbageMotors

    Man it really is good seeing GM make buisness dicisions like eAssist with the money they took from the tax payers.  Garbage.  This is just another way GM is trying to rip off the consumer.

  • http://twitter.com/LuvGermanCars Luv German Cars

    Hey slant eyes – I love your piss pour Engrish. 

    Go troll elsewhere http://www.facebook.com/richardjoash

  • Bruce Embry

    Hi All,

    I just
    recently took delivery of my 2013 Malibu Eco. The car is a joy to drive. It has
    more pickup then I every expected from a small engine. The Eassist kicks in additional
    power and directly pushes the car. And you can often feel the kick in your

    As for
    price, everyone has been misleading the public. You really have to compare the
    Malibu Eco with similar equipped cars. For example; a Malibu 2SA Eco with
    leather interior is only $115 move then the Malibu LTZ with the 2.5 engine. So
    I got the Easiest for $115.   So here
    what you have is energy recover system uses regenerative braking to store
    kinetic energy, provides the engine start/stop when you are at red lights and
    can give you a kick in the seat of your pants.  Ok it’s not a full hybrid, but that is OK with

    The fuel economy
    has been great. I am currently running the combine MPG of 29mpg. I have already
    archived more the 40 mpg on a short trip. The car handles great, is very quiet
    and the stereo sounds  great with 9 speakers.
     I truly believe that all of the native
    press is due to the fact that it’s a GM product. 

  • BigRedFred

    The Prius is a success because it is a darn good car (the current recall notwithstanding).  Add the hybrid feature to the equation, and it’s understandable why people want to buy the car.  But if you do the math on the imputed additional cost of the Prius over an equivalent conventional car, it’s not a great investment.

    If that’s the case with the leading full hybrid, the chances that GM will score big with eAssist are low.  Plus, research on improving conventional drive trains may produce far greater fuel savings in a decade than what most hybrids can offer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bdefalco Bill DeFalco

    eAssist technology is the most practical and cost-effective form of vehicle
    electrification and the only electric drive technology that makes good economic
    sense, given the current level of technology in batteries and electric drive
    motors.  The fundamental concept behind
    eAssist is brilliant – it is a system designed to capture the energy from
    slowing and braking a vehicle – a significant amount energy that is otherwise
    normally completely lost in the form of heat – and return this energy back to
    the drive system in the form of an electric assist to the vehicle’s gasoline or
    diesel engine.  The net results are lower
    fuel consumption, reduced emissions, increased mpg, longer driving range per
    tank, time saved from less frequent fuel stops, and More Money in your bank
    account.  And the benefits don’t stop
    there, as the eAssist system also significantly extends the life of the
    vehicle’s brake system components thus saving you More Money in operational
    costs.  When driven properly a vehicle
    with eAssist can easily get over 120,000 miles on the original brakes before
    service is required.  In fact the savings
    in brake system service costs alone over the first 120,000 miles of ownership
    will more than completely cover the entire cost of the eAssist system – with
    the increased mpg and reduced fuel costs being the very thick layer of icing on
    the cake.  So when factoring in the cost
    savings of an eAssist system you must include the substantial savings in brake
    system service costs along with the reduction in fuel costs and the combination
    of both means that the cost of the eAssist system can be rapidly returned to
    the owner within the first 12 to 24 months of ownership – as opposed to the 10
    to 12 years needed to recoup the cost of a full hybrid vehicle.  Keeping the cost of the eAssist system low is
    the fact that its key components – the electric motor and the battery pack -
    are smaller and much less expensive than those used in a full hybrid
    vehicle.  Two other great features of
    eAssist are that it works seamlessly and it does not require any plug-in
    charging.  Essentially eAssist provides
    the most cost-effective aspect of a full hybrid vehicle – regenerative braking
    - at far less cost than a full hybrid system. In summary – GM’s eAssist system
    provides the most cost effective way to reduce fuel consumption, reduce
    emissions and extend the brake system service life of ANY vehicle – all great
    reasons why it should be incorporated into EVERY vehicle!

  • SJ

    I own this 2013 Malibu and love this car.  Have about 5K miles on it now.  The gas milage is amazing.  I drive a mix, city & highway.  I average between 32 & 34 miles per gal. every tank full. This car is so quite and smooth.  It has plenty of power when you need it.  I like the way the engine cuts off when you stop and restarts when you release the brake.  Seemless, the motor/generator restarts the engine.  Good job GM

  • Adam C Smith

    My 2013 2SA is just breaking in engine wise – 2500 miles – and mileage is steadily climbing. My average city/hwy (70/30 city highway) is near 31MPG. On a 400 mile round trip I got an astounding 41MPG – with AC on all the way.

    Yes, perhaps the car is heavier but it translates to ride and probably the very quiet interior.

    I test drove and priced all competitors, and drive this one every day. I am so happy with my purchase.

    The other thing I like is that besides the great mileage, I own what is a luxury car. Heated leather, auto climate and super stock radio. Also, as a non-tree hugger, it is nice that stopped at lights/traffic the engine isn’t spewing exhaust or using fuel while idling.

    Anyone that poo-poos emissions, my city has a park .25 mile off a four lane highway. Run through that park, near a river and with many trees during rush hour and taste/gag/breathe the exhaust. It’s palpable and disgusting.

    GM’s elegant and relatively inexpensive solution for NOW is pretty damn sweet.

    Plus, if you’re dumb enough to run the battery down, you can jump start yourself

  • Adam C Smith

    I offer you a drive and walk around my car if you’re in the Seattle area. This has build quality on par or better than any 26k car I’ve tested or driven in. I think your preconceived notion may be surprised.

    Also, for political reasons, I love that its an American corp made in America!

    My Toyota/BMW/Honda/Name your import owners who despise government healthcare and “socialist,” trends in our country seem to have zero problem subsidizing those very same things in foreign countries by purchasing cars from foreign corporations.

    It boggles my mind that they’re okay shipping their cash off to a foreign corp. I can’t imagine a more patriotic thing than buying a well-built (I promise or I’d have bought something else) car designed, built and sold by an American manufacturer.

    Just my two cents as an informed gear-head.

  • Adam C Smith

    Terrible if you’ve never driven much less laid eyes on. I offer a test and walk around if you’re in the Seattle area.

  • Bill DeFalco

    The Prius is a rather absurd looking vehicle with very small wheels that look way out of proportion with the rest of the (poorly styled) body. Like all Toyotas the Prius is severely lacking in styling. I don’t care what the gas mileage is for the Prius – I’d never buy one for two key reasons: 1. It’s tin-box death-trap construction offers little protection for the occupants – and – 2. It’s Totally UGLY!

  • Spektor

    Are you kidding? The Prius gets excellent crash ratings! You may not like the fact it doesn’t look like an old man’s land yacht from 1978, but hey, if that’s your thing then roll with it. Stay with Buick, and enjoy its whopping 1 mpg boost from the ‘e-assist’ system. Don’t spend it all in one place, now.

  • Spektor

    GM’s BAS (belt-alternator-starter) mild hybrid system was a joke when it was introduced years ago on the Silverado and the Saturn Aura Greenline model — and GM still gave the same excuses for not introducing a full hybrid system even back then. Cost, size, marketing, etc. The BAS-1 system gave virtually no appreciable mileage improvements, certainly no more than what could be achieved with better weight saving, transmission improvements and other efficiency measures (like on the non-hybrid Chevy Cruze Eco line). It doesn’t seem to be a different story with the updated design.

    With the wealth of engineering talent and manufacturing expertise, that GM has failed to introduce a Prius fighter, in all these 10+ years since it was introduced, is really shameful. The Spark Electric EV is a good start on EVs — but is only being sold in a few Western states, and has lower range than a hybrid. The Volt is a tech masterpiece, but is nowhere near the cost of a standard vehicle, even a Prius.

    GM will you ever be giving the US market a +50 mpg compact/subcompact vehicle?

    Or will Toyota continue to beat you in this game?

  • Spektor

    What the hell are you talking about? You are not getting 70 mpg in the city in any GM product unless it’s a Volt you have charged up and are running on battery only. What is a 2SA?

  • Bill DeFalco

    Let’s put it this way – the Prius scores ZERO in styling – I certainly would never buy one, as it is a very rudimentary basic and rather odd looking car. It’s small size offers very little protection from impacts from the many much larger vehicles on the road – making it literally a coffin on wheels. In fact it’s so small – it will easily fit inside a hearse – rather scary!

  • mikey likes it

    Seems like more of a failure in the car not the E-Assist, should really change the title of this article to “Malibu, still a bad car even with E-Assist.