Buick has placed a major bet on its eAssist mild hybrid system, offering it as standard equipment on base versions of the 2012 Lacrosse and, more recently, the 2013 Regal as well.

Now Chevrolet is planning to spread that same system--which the Bowtie Brand uses on the 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco  on sale since early this year--to more models. And Automobile magazine caught spy photos of what it'll look like.

The article shows the redesigned 2014 Impala full-size sedan with a quite different grille, more of a Volt-style blanking plate than the three horizontal chrome bars used on the 2014 Chevrolet Impala unveiled at the New York Auto Show in April.

The new Impala was designed, Chevy said, to accommodate a variety of engines--not only the Eco mild-hybrid engine but also a range-topping 303-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 and a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder putting out 195 horsepower.

The 2014 Impala is built on the same platform as the 2012 Buick Lacrosse, so the engineering of the 182-hp 2.4-liter eAssist version should be fairly easy. It will use GM's corporate six-speed automatic transmission, just as the Lacrosse does.

Chevy hopes to earn a 35-mpg highway rating for the 2014 Impala Eco, though its city mileage will likely only be in the low 20s.

2014 Chevrolet Impala

2014 Chevrolet Impala

That system uses a 10-kilowatt (15-hp) alternator-starter acting to provide extra torque to the engine, and recharge the small lithium-ion battery pack, through a beefed-up accessory drive belt that drives both ways.

It also restarts the engine when the driver starts to lift a foot off the brake after the car has come to a stop.

The advantage to this system is that all the modifications are to the outside of the engine. That requires fewer packaging modifications than single-motor mild hybrid systems like Honda's Integrated Motor Assist, in which the electric motor sits between the engine and transmission.

The Lacrosse eAssist model also carries additional underbody air shields, to smooth airflow under the car and reduce aerodynamic drag at speed, as well as active grille shutters like those introduced on the Chevy Cruze Eco two years ago.

It appears GM decided some time ago that its eAssist system was a cost-effective way to help its largest cars comply with increasingly stringent fuel-economy requirements for 2012 through 2015.

Buick Lacrosse Hybrid eAssist System

Buick Lacrosse Hybrid eAssist System

Tom Stephens, then an executive in GM product planning, said in 2008 that the company expected to produce up to 100,000 such systems within two years after launching it.

The 2012 Buick Lacrosse with e-Assist hit the market last summer, and the 2014 Chevy Impala is supposed to go on sale early next year.

Unlike the Buick approach, however, the Eco system will remain an extra-cost option on Chevy models--as it is on the 2013 Malibu and the Cruze since its launch.

But watch for not only the Impala Eco next year, but Eco versions of additional Chevy model lines in future years.


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