DETROIT – On the cusp of its global introductions, engineers for the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu have rolled past 1 million miles of on-road development testing – accumulated in about 22 months on six continents.
The extensive road development and validation process helps ensure the new Malibu’s overall ride and handling, comfort, quality and durability are exemplary when production begins, and meets the needs of customers around the world. The new Malibu will be sold in nearly 100 countries on six continents, making it Chevrolet’s first global midsize sedan.
“You learn a lot about a car when you spend so much time in it – and that’s exactly the point,” said Mark Moussa, global chief engineer. “In the last year and a half, during every minute of the day, a 2013 Malibu has been driving somewhere around the world – all to make it the best car it can be.”
The million test miles were accumulated since the first quarter of 2010 on a fleet of about 170 pre-production vehicles, driven for a cumulative average of more than 45,450 miles every month. That’s the equivalent of:
66.66 years of driving a car 15,000 miles annually
201 round-trips between New York City and Los Angeles
Two trips to the moon and back.
While the testing regiment for the Malibu mirrored GM’s standards for new-vehicle validation, the global scope of the Malibu project magnified it. More drivable prototypes – known as integration vehicles to GM engineers – were built compared with a single-market vehicle, and they represented 13 powertrain combinations and numerous equipment packages the Malibu will offer around the world.
The greater number of market conditions helped spin the program’s collective odometer quickly to the seven-digit range.
The early prototypes were hand-built by General Motors in the United States and shipped around the globe. They were driven at GM’s proving grounds around North America, as well as on the freeways, highways and back roads of the United States, Canada, Australia, South Korea, China, England, Dubai and Germany.
The development stage the Malibu pre-production cars represented meant the powertrains, suspensions and other core elements of the cars were already green-lighted for production. The round-the-clock driving helped fine-tune their overall dynamics in performance, interior quietness, seat comfort, drivability and more.
During their testing, the Malibus were driven through Death Valley in the hottest summer days to validate the air conditioning performance, and driven to the top of the Rocky Mountains for high-altitude tests. The cars were subjected to hundreds of miles of stop-and-go rush hour drives in Chicago and Seoul; and through the winding hills of North Carolina to evaluate seat comfort and other long-drive factors.
Even the coin holders were evaluated.
“Along more significant differences among markets, such as powertrains, there is a myriad of small details that vary in markets around the globe and they must all be validated in real-world driving tests,” said Moussa. “Even small things such as holders for toll change or tickets varies for different markets.
“In Korea, for example, the hazard lights are often used as a ‘thank you’ to other motorists, so the long-term durability of the switch must be ensured,” Moussa said. “So, we’ve got to test not only the big things, but the seemingly small ones, to make sure we are building a quality product that meets the needs of all these different markets and uses.”
Speaking of Korea, it and other Asian markets that are prone to heavy rains during monsoon season, have deeply grooved concrete road surfaces to channel water off the highway. They’re effective during the rain season, but driving on them when dry can generate a considerable noise challenge for engineers.
“It’s a very tough noise to isolate and happens to be at a frequency that is very annoying to the human ear,” said Kara Gordon, acoustics engineer. “But that is the reality for drivers in those markets and because the acoustic performance of a vehicle helps form one’s perception of quality, making sure the Malibu soaked up those grooved roads quietly was an essential component of development.”
The tires were the lynchpin of the Malibu’s monsoon-groove performance and Gordon and other engineers went to great lengths to find the right tire for the market. That included:
Testing the 11 different tires specified for Malibu around the globe, to see how each performed on the monsoon roads
Bringing in tire manufacturers for consultation on how changes in tread design and compound could affect performance
Building a replica of a Korean grooved road at GM’s proving ground in Yuma, Ariz., for evaluation purposes
Benchmarking the performance of Korean-market competitors, including importing home-market versions – not using simply U.S.-market models – and testing them against the Malibu on the replicated test road.
“In the end, we found the right tire for the Korean market,” said Gordon. “It was challenging, but so is the overall process of developing a car for nearly 100 markets around the globe.”
And while most of those development cars were running around the clock, others didn’t see many miles at all. Development cars in England and the United States were run through salt water troughs and placed in a chamber to simulate years of corrosion and winter road driving, while others were parked in the Arizona sun to see how the interior materials held up to extreme heat.
In a nod to the development work leading up to the Malibu’s million miles of testing, engineers found a few areas of the vehicle that required major attention as a result of it – one of them being a change in the application of liquid sealer to steel parts of the body structure, which helped produce a quieter ride.
“You never know about those fine details until you get the vehicle on the road,” said Moussa. “Our million miles in testing should inspire confidence for anyone who considers buying a 2013 Malibu.”
The all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco midsize sedan will start at $25,995 (including destination charge) when it arrives in dealerships in the first quarter next year. It is a new and the first trim level of an all-new Malibu lineup to launch in the United States. Other Malibu trim levels, including LS, LT and LTZ, are scheduled to begin production next summer in Fairfax, Kan. and Detroit-Hamtramck.
The 2013 Malibu will serve as a flagship Chevrolet midsize in many parts of the world. It is built in multiple locations including the United States, China and Korea.
Founded in Detroit in 1911, Chevrolet celebrates its centennial as a global automotive brand with annual sales of about 4.25 million vehicles in more than 120 countries. Chevrolet provides consumers with fuel-efficient, safe and reliable vehicles that deliver high quality, expressive design, spirited performance and value.
The Chevrolet portfolio includes iconic performance cars such as Corvette and Camaro; dependable, long-lasting pickups and SUVs such as Silverado and Suburban; and award-winning passenger cars and crossovers such as Sonic, Cruze, Malibu, Equinox and Traverse. Chevrolet also offers “gas-friendly solutions including Cruze Eco and Volt.
Cruze Eco offers 42 mpg highway while Volt offers 35 miles of electric, gasoline-free driving and an additional 344 miles of extended gasoline range, according to EPA estimates. Most new Chevrolet models offer OnStar safety, security and convenience technologies including OnStar Hands-Free Calling, Automatic Crash Response and Stolen Vehicle Slowdown.