In Vegas: How Bright the Chevy Spark?

By · January 11, 2013

Chevy Spark EV

The Chevy Spark EV: A $32,000 electric package that may or may not be built for compliance. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I’m on the General Motors stand with an electric Chevy Spark and Paul Pebbles, whose full title is global manager, OnStar electric vehicle and smart grid services. The Spark is here at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas because GM wants people to know what a connected car it is—the company is announcing Waypoint, a new app that will tell EV owners if they can make it to an announced destination. If not, it will plot a route that takes in some available charging stations.

Waypoint would be useful if you owned a Spark, but will you—with a price of $32,000 before the federal rebate—own a Spark? The car is very small, and has an unofficial range of approximately 90 miles. I sat in it and found it tight.

Chevy Spark EV

The Spark name needs to resonate with the buying public. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The dash showed off another reason this car is at CES—not only is there the latest GM infotainment system often seen in higher-end vehicles, but there’s some useful electric drive data, too. With the remaining battery charge in mind, the Spark will tell you that you have 32 miles of range left—but 27 if you drive like an idiot or 40 if you’re very conservative.

GM’s Rebecca Roth also told me that GM has partnered with utilities (including Detroit-area DTE) to enable Spark owners to automatically charge during the best time-of-use rates, which may vary. More utilities need to offer such rates to optimize a system like that.

GM Says It's The Real Deal

The Spark is very under-the-radar right now, and it will have to stack up against other battery offerings, including the Scion iQ, Honda Fit EV and Fiat 500. But since EVs are still thin on the ground it’s also up the Nissan LEAF, which in Detroit next week will announce a new stripped-down version at a reduced price.

If GM is building the Spark only to satisfy California regulators (as, arguably, Toyota, Honda and Chrysler are), it may not care if you buy one or not. Is it a compliance car, then? “It’s not a compliance car,” said Pebbles. “We’re planning a global launch of this vehicle—it will be in a lot of markets.” But Pebbles also said that GM isn’t yet talking volumes or specific American markets where the car will roll out next summer. Here's the Spark on video, from the CES floor:



Before the Spark appears in showrooms in six months or so, GM will probably take some steps to enhance the offering—great charger options, more apps, a very attractive lease price, discounts at the dealer level. Of course, if the Spark is a compliance car it can just, none of these things have to happen.

First EV with Combo Cord

A lot of question marks still surround the Spark, then, maybe more than should exist for a car this close to launch. One point of distinction, however, is that the Spark appears to be the first American market vehicle with the recently approved (by the Society of Automotive Engineers) “combo” plug that allows all three levels of charging. It incorporates both J1772 Level 2 and a new Level 3 standard for 480-volt fast charging. Pebbles told me the first Level 3 chargers using that standard will be opening “within days.”

Bruno Armand

Bruno Armand of DBT with the combination CHAdeMO/SAE fast-charging prototype. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Just around the corner from GM’s booth was DBT USA, which is the American arm of a well-established French charging company. On the stand was a new Level 3 charger that offers two wands—one compliant with the Japanese CHAdeMO standard and the other with the new American combo plug. Bruno Armand, business development manager for DBT, told me that the charger is a prototype that could be on European markets in the second half of the year, and maybe the U.S., too.

“The idea is to be as flexible as possible,” Armand told me. “If customers want this type of charger, we will be ready.”

I was struck again by how heavy the combo plug is—at least twice that of a standard J1772 Level 2 unit (but a bit smaller than the CHAdeMO Quick Charge Plug). It makes Tesla’s decision to go it alone with a much slimmer and lighter design look a little less crazy.

The Spark has a big price, a small size, some nice electronics, and, well, a lot of remaining questions.

Comments

· · 1 year ago

I also sat in the Spark EV. And considering that it is almost 20” shorter than the Honda Fit EV, the Spark is surprisingly roomy. But it’s true the Spark, like the Fit and 500e, will have to fight American preference for larger vehicles. And it’s price cuts against appeal to younger drivers.

A 90+ mile EPA range would be class leading, and including the SAE’s QuickCharge (L3) off-board charging compatibility may be a benefit in the distant future. But I question Chevy’s use of a 3.3kW on-board charger. With more than a thousand 6.6kW L2 public charge sites installed in California right now, why cripple the Spark EV with recharge times twice as long when compared to it’s competition? This spoils an otherwise technically excellent EV.

· · 1 year ago

You forgot to mention the biggest reason for the Spark EV to be competitive. 400 FT-LBs of torque. 0-60mph under 8 seconds. That would make it the FASTEST EV in the sub $50k EV market.

Finally, some "affordable" EV with decent performance. It is also one of the 2012 Motortrend car of the year nominee that was described as "fun to drive" for such a little thing.

I can't wait to test drive one.

With $10k incentive, it will be priced well within the Prius C price range and it will drive way better than Prius C.

· · 1 year ago

That makes me want to know comparable spec's for Ford's EV (Focus), i.e. torque and 0-60 time.
We have one that feels very powerful, plenty of acceleration for our needs (and it carries a 6.6 kW charger).

· · 1 year ago

Focus EV is rated @ 143 HP. 3,624lb of weight.

edmunds.com 0-60mph test shows 9.6 seconds

17.2 seconds for 1/4 miles @ 82.1 mph

More powerful and faster than the Leaf.

· · 1 year ago

"big price, small size" Don't forget "slow".

Compliance cars never sell, never have, never will. It's a waste of engineering resources, being used to satisfy ivory tower ignorant government bureaucrats. We've already been through this once. When are these idiots in California going to get the message?

· · 1 year ago

However, having said this, I would say the Spark is the best attempt yet at a pure EV. 0-60 in under 8 seconds is decent for any econo car, EV or not. 80% fast charge in 20 minutes is getting pretty reasonable. It's just that the range of about 60 miles is not going to do it.

· · 1 year ago

Everybody is talking 'compliance car' but why? I think it's cute, and for $25k it's a bargain compared to other EVs for what it offers in features and the potential for high performance. A neighbor has a gas Spark and loves it - it is narrow inside, but I'd get used to that. Otherwise, it's plenty roomy and practical. I'm thinking hard about it if it really becomes available and not compliance, and provided I can swing it with the wife who is sold on Toyotas and not a fan of Chevys.

· · 1 year ago

The charging for the Spark might not be as bad as KeiJidosha thinks. This is an except from an article about the Spark titled, "2014 Chevy Spark EV to be fast driving fast charging electric car," by David Herron of the examiner.com

"The charging system supports 120 volt (AC level 1) or 240 volts 3.3 kilowatt (AC level 2) charging, the latter giving a 7 hour full recharge time. The SAE DC Fast Charge system is what the SAE calls "DC level 2" and what others refer to as "level 3" and is a method for pumping power into an electric car at a high rate, to recharge it very quickly. GM and Nissan have been trading punches since at least 2010 over the CHADEMO and SAE DC Fast Charging systems, because CHADEMO is an existing system that performs most of the same functions as the SAE DC Fast Charge system. But the standards bodies, in October 2012, chose the SAE DC combo plug over the CHADEMO system for fast charging."

Link to complete article: http://www.examiner.com/article/2014-chevy-spark-ev-to-be-fast-driving-f...

· · 1 year ago

@ModernMarvelFan
Thanks for your reply. I looked at Edmunds.com and also saw torque, there in different units: "Torque (lb-ft @ rpm) 184 @ [?]", for Ford's EV (just units wrong?).
Makes the 400 FT-LBs you reported for Spark EV look remarkable (not seen on the edmunds site I looked at).

· · 1 year ago

@Michael Jennings

I repeat: What a convoluted mess.... After Everyone finally figured out what Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 were, now SAE calls Level 3 the 'new' Level 2 (with the implementation of this silly combo plug - so much for 'standards').

The other thing I haven't fully figured out yet is are the charger units in the car CURRENT limited (as they are in the Tesla products and Tesla Toyota Rav4EV, and, apparently, the VOLT, since my Volt takes longer to charge publicly (200 volts) than at home (240), ... OR are they POWER limited, as several Leaf owners here have claimed (in other words, charging time is unaffected whether your charge at 200 or 240, the unit just draws more current to compensate, a la most switching power supplies , E.G.my laptop power supply can run on 240 or just draw more current at 100 volts - the output is pretty much the same.

GM is using what Ex-ev1drvr has thoughtfully claimed "the New Glacial Standard" (!) compatible with all 40 and 60 amp home main electrical services worldwide!

· · 1 year ago

$32K is virtually the same price as the loaded i MiEV, and while the Spark may be very similar in size (I don't know) it has a bigger battery pack, is much higher performance, better aerodynamics, and considerably longer range. The i MiEV is the lowest cost EV (still) but also the shortest range, and the clunkiest dash and radio and it has an inefficient heater and defroster. The range remaining readout is not dedicated - on an EV that is almost inexcusable.

The Smart Electric Drive will put some downward price pressure on the EV market. And at least you can *buy* the Spark; unlike the Fit EV. (Honda really needs to reconsider...) Being a compact car in many situations is a *good* thing, in my opinion.

Neil

· · 1 year ago

The exev1drvr coined "Glacial Standard" (3.3 kw) apparently is going to be used by the ViaScalade . Seems uncanny driving around in a monster EV and then charging at 14 amps max. hehe.

Several posters have mentioned why GM (and by extension Via) is using this meager charger size. I'd bet part of the answer is that in Europe, huge single phase loads are probably not allowed. Therefore, to maintain world-wide compatibility, they can use all their existing chargers worldwide and don't have to change anything, they even use the by now widely used j1772. Country specific Evse's are handled locally, but the standard voltec charger with the car is either 8 or 12 amp / 120 in North America, and 240 volt 6 or 10 amps everywhere else.

· · 1 year ago

I've never seen or heard of one in the Phoenix area yet. I think it will be about a year before they are available outside of California and Oregon.

Also only 3.3kw on 240 and most public EVSE charge by the hour so it's twice the cost of a car with 6.6 .

Also not a single COMBO quick charge in the state. This could be a hard sell in many areas......

· · 50 weeks ago

I drove the Spark EV, I was overwhelming impressed. Drove like a much heavier car, I believe it weighed in at 3,400lbs and took the potholes and road imperfections very well. It's a little too small for my needs but I highly recommend taking a drive. The tech advised he was able to get 110 miles driving conservatively. I hope they sell a lot of these...good work Chevy!

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