Chevy Spark EV Becoming Sleeper Hit, But Stock is Limited

By · November 01, 2013

Chevy Spark EV

The Chevrolet Spark EV is only available in California and Oregon, and it has only been on sale in those two states since June. But sales are exceeding expectations, Dale Sullivan, regional director of Chevrolet for General Motors Western Region told PluginCars.com. “It is way over our expectation,” he said. “Keeping a good quantity in stock is the biggest problem we have.”

General Motors has sold 310 Spark EVs since June, said Sullivan. “It is getting us our Millennial buyers that we really wanted in Chevrolet, and just like Volt, it gets us conquest buyers,” said Sullivan.

The Spark EV, which is currently produced only in Korea, is the only pure electric vehicle General Motors offers. By comparison, the Chevy Volt range-extended electric vehicle sold 1,027 units in October alone in the 14-state Western Region, said Sullivan. More than half of those Volt sales were in California, he added. (Total U.S. sales of the Volt in October were 2,022 units.

The Spark EV has a base price of $26,685 MSRP before any tax credits. Buyers are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, as well as a $2,500 credit in California and $1,500 in Oregon.

Those tax credits make the Spark EV a great deal, according to Chad Kelman, general sales manager at Bunnin Chevrolet in Culver City, Calif., in western Los Angeles County. Kelman told PluginCars.com that Bunnin Chevrolet was the number one Volt dealer in the country in September and one of the top five in Spark EV sales.

Bunnin sells every Spark EV it can get, which is about five to 10 a month, said Kelman. Some 60 percent of the deals are leases. The Spark EV lease can be as low as $199 a month, he said. “In a car like this, you get the $2,500 state rebate coming straight to you,” he said. “So you get the down payment and a few month’s lease” in rebates.

The Spark EV is offered in two trim levels—the $325 jump from 1LT to 2LT gets you leatherette heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with silver accents (according to Chevy’s website). Sales are about evenly split between the two, said Kelman.

Quick Charge Ports Not Yet Available

The higher 2LT trim will offer the option of DC Fast Charge capability—with an additional cost that's estimated to be $1,200 to $1,500—but current Spark EV models have not been equipped with quick charging, according to Kelman. But they are on the way. “We have been eagerly awaiting those,” said Kelman. “We are waiting to hear how fast we can get them. We already have some on order.”

The Chevy Spark uses the SAE Combo Cord standard, rather than the CHAdeMO protocol. The first SAE-compatible station was introduced in early October, in San Diego. So, it will be some time before Spark EV customers can take advantage of quick-charging.

Buyers from out of state try to buy Spark EVs from Bunnin, but Chevy dealers are under orders from GM not sell the BEV to any buyers not from Oregon or California because GM wants the zero emissions credits, he said. Under California’s Zero Emission Vehicle rule automakers must sell a certain number of zero emission vehicles in the state or face fines. Oregon has similar vehicle emissions regulations.

Bunnin has Level 2 240-volt charging stations at its dealership. Anyone with an electric vehicle can use them, not just Spark EV or Volt owners, said Kelman. After the first of the year, Bunnin will begin construction of a separate delivery area for electric vehicles, he said.

Update: Fast Charge capability adds $750 to the price of a car. Bunnin Chevrolet currently has six Spark EVs with Fast Charge on order. Models with the Fast Charge capability will go into production in mid-Novermber and arrive to dealerships in mid-December.

Comments

· · 24 weeks ago

All i can remember is car companies saying no one will buy these things. This should start to prove to everyone if you make a decent car you want be able to keep then on the lot, ask tesla GM

· · 24 weeks ago

GM says the Spark EV is definitely not a compliance car. Right, got it.

But then . . .

Buyers from out of state try to buy Spark EVs from Bunnin, but Chevy dealers are under orders from GM not [to] sell the BEV to any buyers not from Oregon or California because GM wants the zero emissions credits, he said.

. . . and back to square one. Nice try, my narrowly compliant friends. You want to change hearts and minds, stop whining about getting no respect and get a clue. Just to get you started, here are a few (you don't even need to buy a vowel):

Free Clue #1: Start shipping BEVs to any U.S. Chevy dealer willing to get certified, for sale to anyone that wants to buy them.

Free Clue #2: Those birds waddling and quacking around your California and Oregon dealers' lots are called ducks. You might want to stop insisting that they're really unusually small swans.

Free Clue #3: Fighting ZEV requirements in other states isn't helping your case.

Free Clue #4: The only difference between you and the company that seized EV1s from enthusiastic lessees and crushed them is a forced bankruptcy bankrolled by government. Try not to forget that, because we haven't.

· · 24 weeks ago

So Chevy sold 66 Spark EV in October, 376 total since its introduction in June.
[For comparison, during those same 5 months, Nissan sold over 10'000 Leafs in the US alone]

Sure it's better than zero, but claiming it's a "hit" is a little... premature at the very least, isn't it?

· · 24 weeks ago

@Vike1108,

"Free Clue #4: The only difference between you and the company that seized EV1s from enthusiastic lessees and crushed them is a forced bankruptcy bankrolled by government. Try not to forget that, because we haven't."

Well, at least GM wants to sell Volt. That is a big difference.

GM dosn't believe in BEV until there is a cheap enough battery for a 200 mile EVs. So, it only believes in cars like Volt....

Personally, I wouldn't buy a LEAF anyway...

· · 24 weeks ago

Fast Charge capability adds $750 to the price of a car. Bunnin Chevrolet currently has six Spark EVs with Fast Charge on order. Models with the Fast Charge capability will go into production in mid-November and arrive [at] dealerships in mid-December.

Now this is interesting on a couple of counts. If dealers are stocking inventory, they get to equip cars any way they want, so it's an important development that Bunnin is ordering cars with CCS on spec. Pricing probably helped. Adding a feature of unproven value to the sticker for $1500 is a lot tougher sell than doing the same thing for $750 (heck, dealers'll try to stick you with that for pin stripes and Scotchguard). Limiting QC availability to the LT2 (as Nissan originally did w/the LEAF SL) might have been a problem, but the $325 LT1->LT2 bump is pretty painless (as opposed to the multi$K SL->SV upgrade on the LEAF). Overall, GM's making QC much more attractive/accessible on the Spark EV than Nissan did on the 2012 LEAF. And why not? Sales are limited to CA and (yawn) OR, and CA has the strongest QC network in the country, much of it obliged to add CCS support as long as somebody keeps offering CCS-equipped cars for sale, so it should be a no-brainer for all concerned.

This is good news if you're a CCS fan (I'm not), since that's exactly what they had to do, and I wasn't sure they would.

If GM doesn't slam on the brakes after meeting their ZEV quota (something they have so far pointedly refrained from promising), CCS-equipped Spark EVs could actually get out there in some real numbers. Stock the pond like this enough, and CCS might just have a shot.

· · 24 weeks ago

@MMF wrote:GM dosn't believe in BEV until there is a cheap enough battery for a 200 mile EVs. So, it only believes in cars like Volt....

This is apparent from their conduct, but they keep insisting that things are otherwise, hence my ducks & swans comment. I guess we'll get a better idea when Spark EV sales pass the ZEV quota; if we see production cutbacks and/or price increases, we'll know where GM's corporate heart is at. I hope they stay in the game and find the Spark EV profitable and/or useful enough to take nationwide. Today's BEVs might not meet your needs, but they're ideal for mine.

· · 24 weeks ago

@MMF: Whoops, hit Send instead of Preview . . . oh well.

Thought #2 is on the 2nd part of your statement, regarding the Volt. I would acknowledge that the Volt has been well supported by GM in marketing and advertising terms - overall, GM's made sure it has even higher visibility than the LEAF, which in turn has more mind share than any of the other EVs.

But while the Volt itself is a good proof of concept, and an appropriate car for a certain market niche, where I question GM's commitment to the project is the lack of additional models or body configurations. The Cadillac ELR is not going to make much of a dent, and in any case I don't think the Volt's chief drawbacks are low price and/or excessive space.

What I need right now (and had hoped to see from someone in the next 18 months, though that hope's now fading) is a larger PHEV to supplement our BEV city car. We don't need a truly big car, just something we can take on road trips and in which we can transport ourselves and a couple of friends to dinner or a show.

The Volt comes tantalizingly close, but no sale. The Voltec drivetrain strikes the right balance for our purposes, so the Volt actually works just fine as a PHEV. Where it fails for us is as a car. The trunk is too small for our travel needs. That's actually not a knockout factor, since we can fold the rear seats down and travel almost always involves just two of us. But the massive battery tunnel splitting the back seat is a killer around town; at our age, we find the back seats too confining and uncomfortable, and our friends aren't teenagers either.

The MPV5 concept that GM showed a couple years back would be an ideal balance for us. Slightly reduced EV range and sustained highway MPG would be a more than fair trade for the MPV5's serious trunk and more commodious passenger space. Mitsubishi's brought a similar package to market in the Outlander PHEV, and demand has been so strong in Japan that it's delayed a North American rollout past our intended timeframe (for reasons that elude me, Mitsu's taking the O-PHEV to Europe first, despite their North American division clinging to the U.S. market by its fingernails and in desperate need of a boost).

I doubt we're that unusual, so the Volt's obviously missing a big chunk of the market. Given that, why does GM insist on limiting a Voltec drivetrain of which they're justifiably proud to being used in cars with predictably limited appeal? And why is their next step some gold-plated luxo-toy instead of something in a more broadly useful CUV configuration?

These are big questions about directions and intentions, and I'm interested in how others see this. But I'd note "A Volt works fine for me just as is," while a moving testimonial, is not responsive to this objection. It doesn't work fine for me, and I'd be a lot happier if somebody, GM included, would offer something that did. I'm not looking for 250 miles of EV range or 5 minute charge times - just a car that does what I need and can be operated locally as an EV. As it stands, we might be giving up and just getting a Prius PlugIn if Toyota will ever get around to shipping them to dealers in our state - or if they don't, maybe just forget plugging in and buy another Prius. With all the plug-in hoopla, that just doesn't seem right.

· · 24 weeks ago

@vike1108,

I'm with you in more ways than one.

"Today's BEVs might not meet your needs, but they're ideal for mine."

I was just speaking with my Volt-owning friend about this. He is single and has one car. I am married and together we have two. The Leaf fits the role of one of those two perfectly, but it would never meet my friend's needs.

Sadly, a Volt cannot replace my second car because of the lack of cargo space. I cannot fold down the seats because I have two children. Good luck packing a week's worth of winter clothes and the year's Christmas presents for a family of 4 in the back of a Volt! The MPV5, on the other hand, I would probably have already traded up for if available. It would have everything I need, plus allow my commute to be all electric (my wife uses the Leaf during the week).

Others I talk to are similarly put off by the small size of the Volt. Some people haul people, others gear, and still others simply like the feel of a larger car (I'm not one of them).

As far as GM's intentions with the Voltec powertrain, I find myself getting impatient at the lack of news, but consider the fact that the Volt only hit the roads 3 years ago, that's practically yesterday in the automotive world. Maybe - just maybe - they are waiting for the second generation of Volt to make any significant changes (like adding the MPV5). At this time, I'm trying to reserve judgement and see what happens. Of course that may be easier for me than for you since I don't expect to be looking for a new car for at least 4-6 more years.

@MMF,

"GM dosn't believe in BEV until there is a cheap enough battery for a 200 mile EVs."

GM believes in making a profit, right? If they can make the Spark EV profitable (at least on a per-unit basis), then the more they sell, the more profit they earn. It shouldn't matter whether GM "believes" in sub 200-mile EVs - Nissan has already proven there is a market for them. And GM has responded by building a car that has been getting rave reviews.

· · 24 weeks ago

@Vike and Brian,

I agree that GM can use a bigger Volt. I have been asking them about a Voltec Equinox since day one... Some dealers have been telling me that GM is working on it. But it seems awefully quiet for a company which likes to brag about things it is going to do. I can also use a 60 miles EV range with the Gen II Volt. The space is okay for me since I only use it to do most of the commuting which is where most of the miles are racking up. (Every couple weeks, I need to make a 200 miles trip). I also like a sporty plugin. That is why I think BMW i3 will give some competition to the Volt as well...

Now, as far as the Chevy Spark goes, I don't think GM is making money on it. At least NOT yet. (its price in South Korea is a bit higher). GM believes that 200 miles is the threshold of which the EV will take off and until then, it will always be a niche market. And from what GM has been saying, it has always looked to Tesla as a "potential" threat instead of Nissan and its LEAF... Telsa is the only one that has 200 miles+ EVs.

As far as LEAF has been doing, Volt still beats it in sales in the US. And LEAF gets thousands more in incentives than the Volt while it is larger and has 5 seats. That speaks volume in itself.

I also don't believe Nissan is making money on it, at least NOT on the S trim. Sure Nissan "deny" any loss and claims that they make "money" on it. But nobody knows if that is gross profit per car or whether it includes initial R&D and tooling cost. If it really makes profit for Nissan, then Nissan would have ramped up the volume long ago and allocate as much S trim for the demand as it could. But it doesn't. At least GM is actively discounting the Volt to keep the volume up. That at least is saying that GM is making profit on a gross basis if you exclude initial investment such as R&D and tooling. So, the more it sells, the faster it will recoup the initial investment...

As far as demand goes, just about every friend of mine who is planning to buy a LEAF in the SF Bay Area has been hit by the "bait and switch" tactics at Nissan dealer. $199/month is what it advertises and when you get there, there are no cars for that rate... But they all try to get you a SL or SV model for almost up to $100 more per month in leasing. If Nissan was making money at S trim, it would have expanded production and shift more volume to that trim level. It didn't, it doesn't and it won't....

· · 24 weeks ago

>>>> CCS-equipped Spark EVs could actually get out there in some real numbers. Stock the pond like this enough, and CCS might just have a shot.<<<<<

And the opposite is also true. Without Spark EV in volume (and that just isn't going to happen), or other Frankenplug Cast Member auto manufacturer building a car in high volume like the LEAF and Tesla cars, there won't be many chargers at all. Actually, the only "sure thing" is in California where NRG / eVgo is obligated to put in 200 Frankenplug stations, however each of those stations will also have a world standard CHAdeMO charger, with the same plug and function in Tokyo, Chicago and Oslo.

In others words, Frankenplug can disappear (if it ever actually gets started) without a hickup to the serious, mass produced EVs from Nissan and Tesla.

Nissan has increased the LEAF capacity in the USA from about 1900 per month to 2700.

· · 24 weeks ago

@TonyW wrote: Without Spark EV in volume (and that just isn't going to happen), or other Frankenplug Cast Member auto manufacturer building a car in high volume like the LEAF and Tesla cars, there won't be many chargers at all. Actually, the only "sure thing" is in California where NRG / eVgo is obligated to put in 200 Frankenplug stations

Well, I was just trying to throw the Frankenpluggers a bone, though 200 CCS stations is nothing to sneeze at, depending on how strategically they're located. My real point is that GM has priced CCS attractively on the Spark EV, so it's likely to show up on a lot more of them than I'd thought when rumored prices were running as high as $1500 (in this very article, I'd note).

The most debatable point you raise here is "that just isn't going to happen", though I guess I'm in that camp. I agree that GM has done nothing to disabuse us of the notion that Spark EV production will halt (or prices rise dramatically) once they're sure they've hit their ZEV quota. While they've also said nothing specifically to crush (ahem) the hopes of those who'd like to see the Spark EV go wide, why would they? There's no reason to dis the EVers and depress sales of their ZEV complier while they're pushing toward their quota - the sooner they cross the finish line, the better.

The pleasant fantasy among Spark EV fans that just showing GM there's real demand for their 'lectro-Mini will put "pressure" on the General to make more of them is just adorable, don't ya think? By all means, run out there and buy Spark EVs as fast as GM can crank 'em out so they can eliminate their only incentive for making them as soon as possible - that's sure to work.

Anyway, if the darker scenario is closer to the truth, you have a point, because if there really is a low ZEV-height ceiling on Spark EV production, I don't know what other volume CCS-equipped cars are on the horizon. The buggy, trunkless, and neglected Ford Focus-E? (still no QC) The premium-priced BMW i3? The Mercedes B-class electric (that currently ignores the whole topic of QC)? VW E-Golf? (no word on how many we're getting) The Smart ED or Fiat 500e? (no QC yet)

Basically, GM's the first (and currently only) CCS supporter to show up with a car that could sell in volume sporting a CCS option that people would actually buy. If GM isn't willing to let the car's sales reach their potential, that would be very bad news for the Frankenplug.

· · 24 weeks ago

376 total Spark EVs sold in CARB states California and Oregon only:

July 103
Aug 102
Sep 78
Oct 66

Year to date for the Nissan LEAF: 16,076
LEAF worldwide total sales: over 80,000

· · 24 weeks ago

"GM dosn't believe in BEV until there is a cheap enough battery for a 200 mile EVs. So, it only believes in cars like Volt..."

And if noone buys the electric cars we have *now*, who's going to want to sell them to us when they're "ready?"

Put your money where your mouth is, or noone is going to believe anything that comes out of it.

· · 24 weeks ago

It is a nice little EV. This is the car I would probably pick up if I were in the market for a new EV right now. They do need to build more of them. But I suspect the quantity is intentionally very limited because they are probably money-losers at that price.

· · 24 weeks ago

When did GM ever claim that the Spark EV is not a compliance car? I'm sure they don't like that phrase but they really can't deny it until they start selling the car in significant quantities in non ZEV places.

If you need more trunk space for your Volt, you could always throw on a roof rack and put a luggage container on it. Yeah, that will lower your MPG but it is not like you'd need to use it more than once or twice a year.

· · 24 weeks ago

GM people had said they did not intend to make the Spark EV a compliance car, but this was before Nissan slashed the price of the Leaf. Any plans GM had to mainstream the Spark EV got disrupted as they basically had to be price competitive at a level where any profit is next to nil. Thus plans got scaled way back.

One could do a story examining whether Nissan's price cut has done the EV world a favor or not. I doubt they are making any profit on the Leaf at the new level, but it has given Nissan control of the low end BEV market. Problem is, other manufacturers who might have planned their own BEVs probably are now sitting back and letting Nissan do the dirty work in what has turned out to be a non-profitable market segment.

BMW is in a similar situation as GM was - committed to bringing to market their i3, but it looks like they would have liked to hit the market running at somewhat higher price levels than what they ended up choosing. I think BMW's taking a big business risk with the i3. If it tanks, it'll just confirm GM's decision to play it safe with the Spark EV, as well as dampening other manufacturer's interest in pursuing EVs.

Meanwhile, Nissan will still be alone, occupying the low end of the market they've carved out all to themselves. Maybe not great for profits, but certainly great for the image. All very fitting for Carlos Ghosn's Napoleonic mindset.

· · 24 weeks ago

@Tra2S,

You got a point. But how long can Nissan keep doing this with the LEAF? Especially in 2 years where a flood of LEAF will be coming off the lease?

Last time I looked, Nissan's earning wasn't so hot. Sure, it blamed it mostly on recent recalls of its ICE cars... But we will see.

· · 24 weeks ago

Nissan has always planned on the LEAF being a volume vehicle, and invested accordingly in tools and processes to lower per unit costs. They've got some big sunk costs in those Tennessee plants, but at this stage I doubt they're losing money when they build and sell a car. Nissan's incentive now is to sell more (to recover more of those sunk costs), while the incentives of the compliance players who've not made similar investments and so are losing money per unit sold, is to sell the absolute minimum needed to satisfy their ZEV quotas. When those numbers are hit, I'm not sure they'll halt production, but I'd expect all manufacturer incentives (cheap leases, zero-pct loans) will dry up and we may even see price jumps to levels that will at least pay for unit manufacturing costs and ordinary margins.

When some of us complain about "compliance cars", this is pretty much the scenario we have in mind.

I don't know if all this necessarily translates to "Get out and buy your Spark EV (or Fiat 500e, etc.) while you can still afford it," but if you expect to be living in California for the next decade (so don't care as much about resale value or service problems in non-CARB states), you might want to consider it. Aside from Nissan and Tesla, I don't think anybody else shows much promise of bringing better EV deals to the market in the near future until/unless we see some of those predicted big battery price drops.

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