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Hybrid technology isn’t just a Japanese specialty anymore, everyone is jumping on the electric bandwagon from the Detroit three to German automakers. Even the British are investing in cutting-edge batteries and motors.
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.
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse will start at $29,960 plus an $860 destination charge, when it goes on sale later this year. The eAssist, which features a 2.4L four-cylinder and a mild-hybrid system, is priced identically to a V6 powered model, but can get 37 mpg on the highway, an impressive figure for such a large car.
Fuel economy in the city is estimated at 25 mpg, helped in part by regenerative braking and a start-stop system (the latter will be standard on all 2012 LaCrosse models), as well as low rolling-resistance tires, a 6-speed automatic gearbox and special aerodynamic modifications. The hybrid motor itself can produce 15 horsepower and 79 lb-ft of torque on its own.
On the downside, trunk space for the eAssist is reduced due to the trunk-mounted hybrid components, and weight is up by 65 pounds.
The Buick Regal will get GM’s eAssist mild hybrid system next year, according to rumors on GM Inside News. The eAssist system will debut on the Buick Lacrosse 4-cylinder, an engine shared with the Regal. It is also expected to appear on thew upcoming Chevrolet Malibu, though eAssist is expected to remain exclusive on Buick products for some time.
GM formerly offered a mild hybrid system on the Chevrolet Malibu, Saturn Aura and Saturn Vue, but the models enjoyed limited popularity and a brief production run. The eAssist system is designed to use a much more powerful battery pack and other technologies derived from the Chevrolet Volt.