While GM is leading the way with “disruptive” technologies like electric, extended-range electric, and mothballed-but-soon-to-be-revived hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, the company says it will also lead with a more soft sell approach to getting mainstream buyers into electrified vehicles.

According to GM North America President Mark Reuss, mild-hybrid eAssist technology – as found on the 2012 LaCrosse and Regal which went on sale this fall, and pending Chevrolet Malibu – represents a lower barrier to entry for car shoppers to comprehend and purchase.

For example, a Buick Regal costs an additional $2,000 with the eAssist option and GM estimates someone driving 15,000 miles a year will make it up in fuel savings over three-and-a-half years assuming gasoline prices average $4 per gallon.


The 2013 Malibu Eco with eAssist has an MSRP of $25,995, including a $760 destination charge. GM estimates fuel economy of 25 city / 37 highway "for the most fuel-efficient Malibu ever."

"It's a little more money, but those are some big fuel economy numbers," Reuss told Automotive News last week. "I think people are ready for that."

Compared to the outgoing four-cylinder LaCrosse which got 19/30 mpg, the eAssisted LaCrosse gets 25/36 mpg, and the technology's 5-6 mpg boost beats the 2 mpg improvement delivered by a version GM offered five years ago.

Back then, the company made similar tech available in two Saturns and the Malibu. The system did not do so well in sales, but now with eAssist promising three times the fuel economy improvement, GM is thinking acceptance for it will be much greater.

As eAssist is an optional expense, it not exactly a no-brainer for customers, but it does require considerably less mental effort before pulling the trigger – in fact it is already being presented as a potential impulse purchase unlike advanced-tech vehicle investments that normally come after much intensive study.

Portraying a supposedly typical scenario, Automotive News described a couple in their 50s who arrive at a dealership and drive out the same day with a new eAssist vehicle.

As the thinking goes, eAssist's advantages can be immediately grasped by people who don’t know a Leaf from a Volt from a Prius.

No, these first adopters come right out of the mainstream and what’s most important to them is benefits versus cost. They need not be enthralled by cutting edge technology, nor enthusiastic about America's Energy Future, nor enamored with attempts to save the earth.

Enough for them could be a sales discussion centered on how they will save a buck, and that, GM says, is OK by it if it will sell more cars.

Many of you are already familiar with eAssist, but in brief, it centers around a motor-generator bolted in place of the alternator on the front of the engine. A belt connects the extra 15 horsepower it supplies to the crankshaft for added computer-controlled boost.

A small lithium-ion battery is in the trunk, and the system uses regenerative braking and stop-start technology that shuts off the engine at a complete stop and restarts it when the driver’s foot leaves the brake.

The motor is supplied by Continental AG and the battery cells are supplied by Hitachi and assembled into packs by GM. The automaker also developed the software for the stop-start system, and GM's engineers said they took pains to make the various hybrid elements as transparent to the driver as possible.

The result is smooth power while reducing fuel consumption and GM executives have said eAssist could see its way into the majority of the automaker’s lineup in coming years.



 

Right off the bat, GM predicts it will see big volumes, and thus far it has no significant competition. Anticipated market “take rate” for the eAssist versions of the LaCrosse and Malibu is 20-30 percent of their entire sales volume.

A projection by AutoPacific estimates total U.S. sales of about 60,000 LaCrosses and 175,000 Malibus in 2013 – this will be the first full year of sales for the redesigned Malibu. So, as many as 70,000 eAssist vehicles could be sold that year, or so the number crunchers estimate.

Next year GM intends to produce 60,000 Volts for the entire world, with 45,000 earmarked for North America.

Reuss said he is sure GM is onto a winner that will lead toward meeting CAFE standards and said it’s “pretty darn compelling” technology for any mid-sized or larger vehicle, even for pickups.

"I think solutions like that are going to have to become way more mainstream than they are today," Reuss said. "We are the only ones that have that. That will change."

As GM takes advantage of being a frontrunner, it's believed eAssist could lead consumers toward diving into an electric or extended-range vehicle after growing comfortable with having batteries and motors in their ICE vehicles. In other words, eAssist could be a baby step to warm people toward a future Chevy Volt, Spark EV, Cadillac ELR, or what ever else is for sale later this decade.

At least it sounds promising, and you can be sure GM is hoping this scenario will play out as well.

Automotive News

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