Chevrolet Spark EV Tested In California, Details Unavailable

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It used to be that testing prototype and development cars was done in secret, under heavy camouflage, away from photographers.

Now it's a public relations ploy, it seems, complete with QR codes on the sides of distinctively marked engineering vehicles and a promotional blog entry.

So if you see some white Chevrolet Sparks running around Southern California looking like someone tested a can of black spray paint on their front and rear fascias, go ahead and scan the QR code.

You'll be connected to some GM corporate propaganda about the new Chevrolet Spark EV, a low-volume electric conversion of the carmaker's upcoming 2013 Chevy Spark minicar.

The Spark EV will use a lithium-ion battery pack with cells supplied by A123 Systems.

Its electric motor--which it will build in Maryland--powers the front wheels and puts out peak power of 85 kilowatts (114 horsepower) and sustained power of about 55 kW (75 hp).

We sat in today on a call with the Spark EV development engineers, who have been putting the car through its paces in "65-percent calibration" driving test, meaning it's roughly two-thirds of the way along in its software calibration process.

Chevrolet very clearly said it would not yet discuss the Spark EV's battery-pack capacity, its electric range, its likely MPGe rating, its recharging time, the charger rating, or its production volume.

2013 Chevrolet Spark shown at Los Angeles Auto Show, Nov 2011

2013 Chevrolet Spark shown at Los Angeles Auto Show, Nov 2011

Enlarge Photo

Lead development engineer Trista Schieffer noted that six cars had covered about 1,500 miles on hills, in stop-and-go urban traffic, at highway speeds, and at public charging stations, over a variety of short and long driving cycles.

She said that team members focused on vehicle dynamics, handling, acceleration, stopping, overall driving experience, and the driver's various interfaces with the cars, including mobile apps.

She said, in other words, that the engineers and other GM employees were testing the cars to make sure they provided a good customer experience.

That's a good thing, eh?

The sole new piece of information was that the Chevy Spark EV would offer charging not only on 110-Volt household current and at 240-Volt Level 2 charging stations, but also via DC quick charging.

2013 Chevrolet Spark EV cutaway

2013 Chevrolet Spark EV cutaway

Enlarge Photo

Asked for details, Schieffer declined to say whether that meant the Japanese CHAdeMO quick-charging standard built into Nissan Leafs and Mitsubishi 'i' electric cars, or the still-under-development SAE standard that's not currently available on any production vehicle. (We're almost sure it's the latter.)

She even declined to estimate the total miles GM planned to put on all its Spark EV test vehicles through the life of the testing program--not only in southern California but also at GM's Milford Proving Grounds outside Detroit and elsewhere.

When pressed, Schieffer said brightly, "Whatever it takes to deliver a great product into the market!"

Media drives are not expected until early next year after January's Detroit Auto Show. The earliest time the car would likely arrive at dealers would be sometime during the summer of 2013.

And please keep in mind: This is a low-volume car that will almost surely be sold only in California and other states that have adopted its emissions standards.

If you're in the other 35 or so states, Chevy already has a plug-in vehicle they'd just love to sell you.

It's called the Chevrolet Volt.


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Comments (10)
  1. I've seen pictures of the Sparks chargeport and it did indeed have the SAE level 3 'combo plug' not CHAdeMO. GM isn't serious about this car, it's simply a compliance car. They are only going to make a thousand or two and as stated they'll only be available in a couple states.

  2. If by not being serious you're referring to a common sense plan to sell in small volums to lessen the financial loss and use the knowledge gained for future higher-volume, higher-visability car, I'd say you're right.

    I guess by being serious, GM's role is apparently to lose as much money as EV fans want. No, I'd say GM is making a smart decision, just as Ford is in doing the same with its Focus EV.

    People who don't care about the overall profitability of any OEM sure are quick to tell every OEM what they should make no matter what the cost is.

    Tom, why should GM increase the loss when the same technical knowledge can be obtained whether 1k or 100k are sold? So people can consider GM EV supporters? Use that money elsewhere, for research

  3. Industry experience has shown that if you push products up the volume curve, you can push them down the price curve leading to even more sales and even low prices.

    Of course, there are also many cases were this has been tried and failed with terrible economic results.

    When it does work, e.g. Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive, it can be very difficult for competitors to recover that lost ground.

  4. Legitimate points, John, but I'd argue that the scale and level of technology required to create a new EV dwarfs most other consumer products out there. VCRs and DVD players don't require 3,000 parts or a supplier base of thousands of suppliers.

    The hybrid development paled in comparison because the technology wasn't really new in many ways. You're completely correct, though, about the built-in advantage gained when the gamble is taken.

    Of course, Toyota itself took the gamble in even smaller numbers than GM is with the Volt. Yet, I've yet to see writers here angry about Toyota not being serious about EVs, nor Honda, either. Chrysler, either, but...

  5. " I've yet to see writers here angry about Toyota not being serious about EVs, nor Honda, either. Chrysler, either, but."

    Toyota didn't crush the RAV4 EVs. And they did make a new electric-ish technology available.

    GM crushed the EV1 and then tried to tell us that their Malibu BAS system was as good as the Prius. And people tell us we all should love GM because they're an American company that provides lots of jobs in oindustrial heartland, despite their past refusal to make good small/efficient cars for the US market.

    It's not usually made as part of the argument, but Toyota has catered to the efficiency enthusiast market, while GM dismissed it and literally crushed some people's hopes. The Volt is a solid step, though.

  6. There seems to be a lot of competition headed for the sub compact EV market. And price will determine the size of that market. Fiat 500 EV, Honda Fit EV and Mitsubishi i will all vie for the same turf. I think Mitsubishi undershot the mark leaving room for a more capable entry. I would expect range similar to the larger LEAF, but with a smaller (20kWh+) battery. Personality and utility are what will decide market value for the Spark. A 6.6kW charger, 70+ mile EPA range, abundant regen, and sporty handling would make for solid demand. Test mules are encouraging. We will see.

  7. Only 1,500 miles? Surely it ought to be closer to 1,500,000 miles by this point. Seriously. They had better...

  8. You gotta start somewhere. So these particular cars, on this particular road trip had only accumulated 1500 miles. Says nothing about the Spark EVs running around in Korea etc.

    And what do you mean by "this point"? How many years have they been testing Spark EVs?

  9. I am sure GM picked the Spark because they wanted to keep the price down as much as possible for their next entry into the EV market. I just hope they rapidly expand to a Sonic version BEV and a Voltec Equinox (with towing capability), and versions for Buick and Cadillac. Many people who want EVs or EREVs also want them in styles that suit their lifestyle. More models and some sharing of parts and processes will bring down the costs.

  10. @Roy: FYI, so far the only other Voltec product confirmed is the 2014 Cadillac ELR, the production version of the Cadillac Converj concept car. The Chevrolet Volt MPV5 concept shown in Beijing in April 2010 will not be built, at least not in the current generation of Voltec (2011-2015).

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