By Dave Cooke, Union of Concerned Scientists
Recently General Motors, Fiat-Chrysler, Toyota, and other automakers sided with the Trump administration to fight California’s ability to set strong emissions standards. While this fight tramples all over the Clean Air Act and state leadership, GM and others are pushing the administration to rollback the One National Program we already have so that it can be replaced with a much weaker one.
GM claims that it is transitioning all of their resources to electric vehicles and doesn’t want to have to improve conventional, gasoline-powered vehicles at the same time, even though they’ll make up the vast majority of sales over the next decade. But the thing is, the company has already invested in the technology needed to meet strong 2025 standards—it just needs to work on deploying it more broadly.
The Chevy Malibu is set to be redesigned in the coming years—by 2025, the next-generation Malibu can meet the One National Program of strong vehicle efficiency standards we have today, saving hundreds of dollars for its customers in the process.
No hybrid? No problem.
GM decided that for 2020 they would no longer sell the most efficient Malibu offered, a hybrid that average 46 mpg. But as we’ve noted in the rest of this series, by focusing on reducing road load, you can help boost the efficiency of the entire selection of powertrain options, instead of just focusing on having one, low-volume “green” model.
The current Malibu is lighter and more aerodynamic than its predecessors, but it has plenty of room for further improvement. Reducing weight and drag helps reduce the energy needed to move the vehicle, and that means you can reduce total power demand and improve efficiency without reducing performance.
A lighter weight body means that you can adapt an efficient engine that runs an Atkinson cycle (like the 1.8L engine in the discontinued hybrid) to power the vehicle even without the motor. This is exactly what Toyota has done for the extremely efficient 2.5L engine on the Camry, which further adds cooled EGR to deal with issues of “knock” common in high compression-ratio engines, and GM could adopt the same strategies in adapting its 1.8L for the next-generation Malibu.
More choices for consumers
One of the talking points automakers like to use is an assertion that while there are plenty of technologies left to improve internal combustion engines, they have to use those for improving performance. But what we’ve found in this blog series is that modern engine technologies allow you to have your cake and eat it, too.
For example, the 9-speed transmission GM put in the latest Malibu offers a wider gear spread than either the 6- or 8-speed transmission from the previous version. As implemented, it allows for improved efficiency at highway speeds while also improving acceleration at low speeds. This is in part why we see its use expanded for 2025 to include a new engine offering that offers more performance than the base engine but more efficiency than the 2.0L in the Premier.
Both the 1.3L and 2.0L turbocharged engines we suggest for 2025 are available today in GM vehicles—in fact, the 1.3L is already the base engine in South Korea. But reducing the weight further for 2025 opens up an opportunity to slot an even lower-powered engine designed for efficiency, and give consumers multiple high-performance options that save fuel compared to today’s Malibu. In fact, the 2025 Premier trim would have better performance than today’s Premier model and the same fuel economy as today’s smallest engine.
Engineers can save your consumers money—lobbyists are just burning it
With its fellow Detroiters Ford and Chrysler completely ceding the market for midsize sedans, the next generation Malibu could be a market leader for GM, allowing it to capture its competitors’ customers. But to do that, GM needs to put the focus back on meeting strong targets for 2025.
General Motors is at a crossroads right now, and with every next step they keep moving in the wrong direction. If they let the engineers lead the way, their consumers could save $2,400 in fuel on the next generation Malibu. If they instead continue to let their lobbyists take the lead like the GM of yesteryear, fighting progress at every turn, the environment and GM’s customers will be paying the price.
GM has the technology to meet the strong standards for 2025 we have today—it’s time for them to actually show the leadership necessary to get there. Or, they can keep on looking like lap dogs for the current administration.