2015 N.Y. Auto Show: New Chevy Malibu comes with teen-driver minder

Robotic mom in Malibu will record driving data when teen is at wheel

Watch out teen drivers, Chevrolet has embedded a robotic mother in that 2016 Malibu.

The redesigned family sedan, which General Motors introduced at the New York International Auto Show on Wednesday, is longer, leaner, more fuel efficient and can spy on whoever is driving the car.

Chevrolet engineers have developed the “Teen Driver” feature, which will be standard on most of the next-generation Malibus as a method for parents to check on how their cars are being driven. Parents can use a PIN code to pull up a display on the dashboard's center screen to view how their teenager (or frisky valets) drove the vehicle. It records the maximum speed reached, distance driven and number of times active safety features such as the forward collision alert were engaged.

To trigger the system, the car owner enables the feature with the PIN in the "settings" menu of the Malibu’s MyLink system. That allows them to register their teen’s key fob, or a specific fob that they plan to lend to another driver, such as a valet. The system’s settings are turned on to only the registered key fobs.

The Malibu also can be set to mind a teen driver in other ways. When a driver is using the designated key fob, the car mutes the audio or any device paired with the vehicle when front-seat occupants aren’t wearing their safety belts. It also triggers audible and visual warnings when the vehicle is traveling faster than predetermined speeds.

That’s just one of the features Chevrolet hopes will help it become competitive again in the family sedan market.

Chevrolet has struggled to become a player in the mid-sized sedan segment, which accounts for sales of about 2.4 million vehicles annually and is dominated by the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion. Those four nameplates account for more that 60% of the mid-sized sedan sales.

But there are many other competitive vehicles also vying for sales including the Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6 and Kia Optima. Kia unveiled a new version of the Optima at the New York show.

Chevrolet sold about 188,000 Malibus last year, with a big portion going to rental car companies and commercial fleets. Toyota, by comparison, sold more than 428,000 Camrys.

The new Malibu has a wheelbase stretching 3.6 inches longer than the current model. The longer wheelbase allowed the designers to add 1.3 inches in rear legroom and give the vehicle a sleeker-looking, more fashionable proportion. It is nearly 300 pounds lighter than the current model. The diet is expected to help the new Malibu achieve better fuel economy ratings.

Under the hood is a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces an estimated 160 horsepower and is expected to achieve as much as 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 37 miles per gallon on the highway. It is matched with a six-speed automatic transmission.

The car also has an optional 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with an estimated 250 horsepower. That engine will be mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. It is expected to achieve as much as 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 33 miles per gallon on the highway.

“The new Malibu will move things in the right direction for Chevy,” said Karl Brauer, an analyst with car shopping company Kelley Blue Book. “That car will finally be competitive in what is already a very competitive segment.”

One area where Chevrolet is attempting to leapfrog the competition is with its hybrid version of the Malibu.

Leveraging technology developed for the Volt plug-in hybrid, the new Malibu hybrid is expect to have a combined fuel economy rating of more than 45 miles per gallon. That beats the numbers from the Camry and Fusion hybrids, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Automotive.

But that might not be much of advantage in the near term, given the current price of gasoline. Hybrid sales are struggling, she said, and are stuck at less than 3% of the U.S. auto market.

“More important to Malibu’s sales fortunes will be Chevrolet’s execution of packaging, design and technology” for the entire Malibu lineup, Brinley said.

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