NEW YORK CITY—Dan Amman, the president of General Motors, teased the number “48” during his breakfast address at the New York International Auto Show. A few years ago, we'd be worried that GM thought that was the number of states in the country, they were so far behind the curve. But, it became clear what he meant later that morning, when the company unveiled the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu, which has Prius-level fuel economy.
The product of a young-- okay, insanely young-- designer, the 2016 Malibu looks good from every angle. “They killed it,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president at GM for product. “They’re saying that Harley Earl is drooling," said Reuss, referring to GM's head of styling for more than 30 years. And the new Malibu has other benefits as well, including a nearly 300-pound weight reduction that, Reuss said, “makes it lighter than the Altima, Camry and the Accord.”
GM is hoping to sell 250,000 Malibus a year, up 60,000 from sales of the current model. The new car is lighter but also four inches longer, and the hybrid version combines a new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with large parts of the Volt’s powertrain, including its two-motor drive and power electronics (for a total of 182 horsepower). The car is expected to achieve 48 mpg in the city, 45 on the highway and 47 combined.
The standard Malibu uses a base 160-horsepower 1.5-liter turbo engine, rated at 27 city and 37 highway, but a bigger two-liter turbo with 250 horsepower is available, connected to an eight-speed automatic. It’s likely to be rated at 32 mpg highway and 22 in the city.
Now on to that young designer, Jaymer Starbody. (No, we're not making up his name.) Although with a name like Starbody might be better off commanding a rocket ship in a cheesy sci-fi flick, Jaymer is a confirmed prodigy. Still in his 20s, his career at GM has taken off like, well, the Starship Enterprise. (Sorry, we couldn't help ourselves.) Soon after he started, “Starbody’s sketch was selected from a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu global sketch blitz,” according to written materials GM circulated about Starbody. “And with that, he began working on his first vehicle production program. It won’t be long until he sees his inspiration on the road later this year.”
If that doesn’t inspire prepubescent designers to take up car designing, I don’t know what will.
The Malibu wasn’t the only green game in town. Although the show belonged to SUVs and luxury cars like the Lincoln Continental Concept, nearly everyone is making use of aluminum and high-strength steel to reduce weight (Jaguar and Kia talked a lot about it, for instance), and hybrids are in.
I attended a Mercedes event Tuesday night that included the launch of both the new Smart car (the electric one arrives next year) and a new GLE 550e Plug-In Hybrid, with 329 horsepower from the V-6 motor and 114 from the electric. This is the model formerly known as the M Class. According to Mercedes’ Wolf-Dieter Kurz, “We believe that the plug-in hybrid is the next step in electrifying the car. We will have as many as 10 plug-in hybrid models.”
Kia will probably sell boatloads of its stylish new 2016 Optima, which follows the trend of using small-displacement engines with turbocharging to improve fuel economy. According to Orth Hedricks, a vice president of product planning, the new Optima will be offered with three four-cylinder engines, two of them turbocharged. The all-new 1.6-liter turbo, coupled to a dual-clutch transmission (a feature also on the new Smart car) is supposed to produce both 178 horsepower and nearly 40 mpg on the highway.
And finally there’s the all-new Honda Civic. The coupe concept shown in New York is quite a departure from past Civics—it looked more like a sporty Nissan 370Z than any recent version of the company’s bread-and-butter sedan. The Acura NSX must have gone to the company’s head! Not that we think there's anything wrong with that. Honda’s John Mendel said the new styling complements an all-new platform and powertrain.
“In every way, it’s an epic Civic,” he said, marking perhaps the millionth overuse of said adjective. But, this time, he's perhaps not too far off base. Further, the new Civic is far more than a design exercise—it’s headed for showrooms in the fall. Honda will offer the new Civic in both three- and five-door hatch configurations, a welcome return of this popular body style.
Here's a closer look at the Malibu on video: