2014 Chevy Spark EV Prototype Electric Car: First Drive

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As GM's first battery electric car since the EV1 of the 1990s, there's more riding on the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV electric minicar than its size would indicate.

The company maintains the electric Spark is not just a compliance car, but a fully developed product to be sold not only in California, but in Korea and other markets.

Yesterday, Chevy let journalists drive four prototype Spark EVs around a short loop at the breathtaking Cavallo Point resort, a former U.S. Army base below the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The 2014 Spark EV will be officially launched at the Los Angeles Auto Show in two weeks, and the car goes on sale in California next summer.

Major adaptation

The Chevrolet Spark minicar, GM's smallest global platform, wasn't originally designed for the electric powertrain that's fitted to the Spark EV.

That means that engineers had to do substantial work on the car's basic structure. 

It included replacing the gas tank under the rear seat with a battery pack that extends rearward under the cargo floor, and replacing the engine and transmission up front with an electric motor and associated power electronics.

Eliminating the gas filler opening behind the right rear door required modifying the body-side stamping, as did adding a charge port door to the left front fender.

And keeping the electric Spark compliant with U.S. crash-safety standards required substantial structural re-engineering as well.

Minor visual changes

Aside from a silver grille blanking panel just like the one on the Chevy Volt, the electric Spark EV doesn't look all that different from any gasoline Spark.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV prototype, Sausalito, CA, Nov 2012

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV prototype, Sausalito, CA, Nov 2012

Enlarge Photo

It has a host of subtle aerodynamic modifications, including new front and rear fascias, sill extensions, a longer spoiler on top of the tailgate, underbody panels, and active shutters that close off airflow through the front of the car above 35 or 40 mph when it's not needed for cooling.

The alloy wheels differ from those on gasoline Sparks, but the most notable change may be the color palette.

Plug-in car owners "are conservative" in their color preferences, said Spark EV program manager Mike Lelli.

Based on presentation slides during the seminars, the electric Spark's color palette includes Summit White, Switchblade Silver Metallic, Blue Ray, and a charcoal grey--versus the gasoline Spark's choices of Techno Pink, Salsa (lime green), Denim (pale blue), and Lemonade (pale yellow).

But the prototypes shown to the press had no body-side badges, and just a small "Spark EV" chrome badge on the tailgate of a cutaway electric Spark.

Incomplete specs

Chevy executives declined to provide several critical specifications for the Spark EV.

Those included the precise size of the lithium-ion battery pack ("more than 20 kilowatt-hours"), top speed ("around 90 mph"), projected MPGe efficiency rating, and an estimate of the car's maximum range.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV prototype, Sausalito, CA, Nov 2012

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV prototype, Sausalito, CA, Nov 2012

Enlarge Photo

Vehicle engineers did say that the Spark EV uses roughly 85 percent of the total capacity of its liquid-cooled battery pack. The lithium-ion cells and the battery pack itself are fabricated and assembled in Michigan by A123 Systems.

The Spark EV's electric motor--which GM will build in Maryland--powers the front wheels and is now rated at 100 kilowatts (134 hp) of peak output, higher than the 85 kW (114 hp) cited last year. Peak torque is quoted at a whopping 400 lb-ft.

That compares to the 84 hp of the gas Spark's 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine. Indeed, Chevy says the electric Spark will have a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of less than 8 seconds, far better than that of the gasoline version (and about a second quicker than the Chevy Volt).

Behind the wheel

From the driver's seat of the electric Spark, the instrument cluster resembles that of the Chevy Volt, with several different screens of crisp, bright graphics that drivers can choose from.

A vertical green battery diagram shows the state of charge, along with an estimate of remaining range based on recent driving patterns.

Other changes compared to the gasoline Spark include a Volt-style power button on the console, standard heated seats, and an electric parking brake triggered by a switch between the seats.

A switch just behind the shift lever lets drivers put the car into Sport mode, which changes the throttle mapping to reduce acceleration times.

As well as Drive, there's a Low position on the shift lever that increases brake regeneration--again, just as there is on the Volt.

Driving impressions

From the outside, the Spark EV is remarkably quiet, with no motor whine apparent as it passes by.

Behind the wheel, over the course of several 5-minute drive loops, the electric Spark behaved predictably, with smooth acceleration paired to the tight turning circle of the conventional version.

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Comments (19)
  1. Wow!

    " rated at 100 kilowatts (134 hp) of peak output, higher than the 85 kW (114 hp) cited last year. Peak torque is quoted at a whopping 400 lb-ft."

    That is the FASTEST EV beside Tesla!

    7 hours at 3.3KW means the battery pack is probably around 25KWh...

    That is one nice EV. What is the price range? This should give Leaf a run for its money for EV commuters.

    I can't believe that my Volt will be spanked by this little thing in performance.

  2. The A123 Core Battery Pack has ~23 kWh capacity, not sure if is being used, but specs dimentions are similar: http://www.a123systems.com/products-systems-energy-core-pack.htm

    The 100 kW (134 HP) motor rating is likely a peak value and not the sustained max operation value. Still great performance in relation to existing ICE models of the Spark.

    Compared to Fit EV's 20 kWh battery & 92 kW (123 HP) motor, the Spark EV should be a fun drive. :)

  3. Big numbers for a small car. Fluence is not slow with 85kW so this will be pretty quick with 100kW. Sounds like the battery is even bigger too.

  4. I think the 3.3kW charger is a mistake for the Spark (adequate for the Volt), as AC L2 EVSEs will outnumber DC QCs for a long time to come. The 2011/2012 Leaf with a 3.3 suffers compared to its competition with 6.6s, and I expect the Spark will too.

  5. With extensive body revisions, I hope they have provided more space for stowing golf a bag(s) with clubs behind rear seat (out of sight; can't do this in petro version).

  6. @Wirecup: Actually the cargo space in the Spark EV is identical to that of the gasoline version, neither less nor more.

  7. Going by the specs so far it's looking to be a fairly good EV besides from the slow level 2 charger.

    Problem is it's still a question mark if the base car (the gasoline powered Spark) will appeal to the US market in the first place. I'm worried like the Mitsubishi i (which was too quirky for US tastes) and the Smart Fortwo (which lost its appeal quickly after good sales early on) that the base car may be too small/quirky for US tastes.

  8. @Jake: Actually, it appears even GM has been caught off-guard by the number of Sparks it's selling. More than 2,000 were sold in October, and more than 8,000 since it went on sale in August.


  9. Although I like the look of the Spark, I don't think the Spark EV will do much to slow the reputation of EVs being "clown cars." However, I think it looks better than the "i".

    In any case, it is nice to see a serious offering in the EV market segment.

    "Sport mode, which changes the throttle mapping to reduce acceleration times."

    "Throttle"? does this thing have a "throttle"? :)

  10. Well, there is nothing better than a "clown car" EV that blow away an ICE car at stop light...

  11. For what it is worth, the "VoltAge" website says "20 KWH" very clearly.

  12. I'm pretty surprised (GASP!) that they would use the license plate number "SPRK EV1" in the animation, given all the awful publicity and feelings about the original EV1 car ('96 - '99).

  13. The LINE about EV folk being more conservative. I LIKE RED
    and lots of the folks in the National Electric Drag Racing Association (NEDRA.com) like RED too !
    Steve Lough
    Pres. Seattle EV Association

  14. The very concept of this vehicle has "compliance car" written all over it. The drivetrain is great with a powerful motor and long lasting, presumably costly battery technology but it all goes to waste in the nasty, bargain basement Spark platform that can't possibly justify the price GM would have to charge to make this a viable commercial proposition. It's Coda all over again. The only reason I can think of why GM would mate an otherwise great drivetrain with the cheapest platform they had on tap is to minimize cost in building a car which only purpose is to help meet local regulations.

  15. I wouldn't call this drivetrain great if it was installed in a large car such as Malibu or even the Volt.

    It is only great b/c the weight/power ratio in such a small vehicle.

    GM sees pure EV as a commuting vehicle only that is NOT fit for long distance travel. That is why it is NOT looking at it from Tesla's point view. In a sense, it is also proven GM is correct in that sense. Telsa's solution cost over $80k...

  16. Still, at this point an electric drivetrain like this is bound to be a pretty expensive proposition, it needs to go into a platform that can somewhat justify a substantial price tag. Trust me, nobody is going to pay serious money for a Spark, no matter what powers it. In an Aveo or Cruze this drivetrain might have made a more sensible proposition.

    Maybe GM will prove me wrong and it did manage to make this the cheap car it will needs to be, but I doubt it.

  17. A typical Spark ICE cost about $15k. So, let us say the engine and transmission will equal the cost of Electric motor and motor controller. That is reasonable assumption.

    Now, the additional cost is the charger and battery and all the EV associated cost.

    At $500/KWh, we are talking about $12,500 (25KWh). Let us round it up to $14k for all EV associated additional cost.

    That would be $29K. With $7,500 federal tax credit and $2,500 CA cash incentive. You are talking about the cost of $20k for most people.

    If you knock another $1,000 off the original $15k Spark EV, you are talking about a "marketing" price of $19K.

    That is Prius C price range with spanking performance. And it is NOT far off Fiat 500 price either.

    Right on target.

  18. Compliance cars generally don't get sold in several large markets. This will be sold in the U.S., S. Korea, and China, at a minimum. Not every EV needs to sell in the tens of thousands to make an impact and help improve the learning curves in some areas. With the Volt the only EV/PHEV selling in decent volume now (I know the LEAF is doing a little better, too) and Tesla not ready for the $30k EV until 2014-15, I'd say it's good to have this regardless of the overall sales.

    Not for me at all, but my niece likes the Spark a lot. We're a supplier to it and the sales have been, as noted by John V., much higher than expected.

  19. If they let me get full use of the 400 lb-ft, I'll buy one over a Leaf.

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