Special Coverage

2011 Chicago Auto Show

General Motors Co. will reveal at next week’s Chicago Auto Show a Buick Regal with the auto maker’s e-Assist hybrid system, marking a second application for the technology after the ’12 Buick LaCrosse due in dealer showrooms this summer.

Expect the Regal hybrid to follow its stable-mate into production by the end of August, sources say. Ward’s first reported the new mild hybrid system heading to the Regal more than one year ago.

In the LaCrosse, e-Assist pushes the premium sedan’s fuel economy up 25% from 19-30 mpg (12.4-7.8 L/100 km) city/highway to 25-37 mpg (9.4-6.4 L/100 km). The Regal will see a similar boost, sources say, given standard models of both cars with a 2.4L 4-cyl. engine and 6-speed transmission achieve the exact same fuel economy.

But unlike the more expensive LaCrosse, GM is not expected to make the hybrid system Regal’s base powertrain.

“It’s a cost issue,” GM insiders say.

E-Assist, which GM delayed almost one year when product development slowed during its 2009 bankruptcy, will play a key role in the auto maker hitting strict new U.S. fuel-economy regulations and migrate to additional models in the near future.

“This is the base powertrain of the future,” Steve Poulos, global chief engineer-eAssist at GM, said during a briefing on e-Assist ahead of the LaCrosse hybrid’s Los Angeles auto show debut in November.

Auto makers must achieve fleet fuel economy of 35.5 mpg (6.6 L/100 km) by 2016, and the standard starts stepping in with the ’12 model year. Down the road, the industry could face a corporate average fuel economy target of up to 62 mpg (3.8 L/100 km).

The Regal hybrid will come out of GM’s Oshawa, ON, Canada, assembly plant, a few weeks after production of the sports sedan shifts to North America from Russelsheim, Germany.

GM chose to build the Regal alongside its Opel Insignia platform mate at the German plant to speed its introduction to the U.S. last year.

The car got off to a tepid start, selling 12,326 units over some seven months on the market last year, Ward’s data shows. But as inventories grew and higher-performance models with a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. engine began trickling in, sales ticked up.

GM has tasked the Regal with building further on the momentum the Buick Enclave and LaCrosse provided in 2010, pushing the once-struggling brand’s sales up 52% and netting a share gain to 1.3% of the market from 1.0%.

E-Assist builds on a belt-alternator/starter technology GM first introduced in 2006 but phased out two years later when sales of the Chevy Malibu, Saturn Aura and Saturn Vue with the optional system failed to take off.

The new system provides three times the power, adding lithium-ion battery technology and regenerative braking. The system’s 115V air-cooled Li-ion battery provides the 2.4L motor with an 11-kW (15-hp) electric boost and 15 kW of regenerative braking power.

jamend@wardsauto.com