GM Makes Vague Commitment to Cars with Plugs

By · November 16, 2012

Chevy Spark EV

An electric Chevy Spark near the Golden Gate bridge on display this week at a media event.

Mary Barra, GM's global product development chief, told reporters this week via satellite conference that, "A major focus for GM’s electrification strategy will center on the plug. We have every intention of maintaining our leadership position in plug-in vehicles." This rhetoric suggests that General Motors is feeling more confident about sales of the Chevy Volt, and recognizes that its plug-in cars could be its best hope for establishing a reputation for cutting-edge green technology.

But delivering on promises, even vague ones, by putting a range of attractive products into showrooms is another matter. The only concrete number offered by GM is its new target to sell 500,000 "electrified" cars by the end of 2017. By electrified, GM means any vehicle that features even the slightest bit of electrification—in other words, it includes GM's lineup of mild hybrid eAssist vehicles that don't use a plug.

The Chevy Spark is not exactly the most inspiring vehicle for GM to lead a plug-in car market assault. While the company said the range of the Spark EV will be among "the best in the segment," the field of small electric commuter vehicles is limited—and its sales to date have been negligible. Using the general rule-of-thumb for real-world EV efficiency of 3.5 miles per kilowatt-hour, the Spark EV's 20-kWh pack should deliver 70 miles of range on single charge. Given the small platform, perhaps that can be stretched to 80 miles. The 2013 Smart Electric Drive and Mitsubishi i store 17.6 kWh and 16 kWh respectively.

Those two small EVs have combined sales of about 600 units so far this year—compared to nearly 7,000 LEAF sales, and more than 19,000 sales of GM's Chevy Volt. Marketing for the Volt has emphasized that it doesn't require any sacrifice in range, comfort and performance, in order to drive electric.

What many plug-in fans are waiting for is a concrete plan from the company to produce a complete line-up of cars using the Volt's extended-range electric system. Plug-in hybrids are proving to be more popular among American consumers than pure electric cars. "What started out as a technology proof point has turned into a real-world starting point to push EV technology further and faster than we thought possible five years ago," Barra said, in an official company press release. "The unique propulsion technology pioneered in the Volt —the same technology that will be featured in the Cadillac ELR—will be a core piece of our electrification strategy going forward."

Yet, for probably the next few years, GM will use eAssist mild hybrids to produce higher sales volume of electrified vehicles. "Our commitment to eAssist is unwavering," Barra said. "In fact, our future portfolio calls for eAssist to be on hundreds of thousands of GM vehicles annually by 2017."

The 2014 Spark EV's motor produces 130 horsepower and instantaneous torque of approximately 400 pound-feet. GM says it will go from 0 to 60 mph in less than eight seconds. Additionally, the Spark EV will be the first vehicle to feature the SAE combo charger, which allows for DC Fast Charging of up to 80 percent of battery capacity in roughly 20 minutes. GM says the Spark's lithium-ion battery is capable of handling multiple DC Fast Charges daily.

The 2014 Chevy Spark EV will arrive in showrooms throughout California in summer 2013. Pricing has not been announced.


· Modern Marvel Fan (not verified) · 5 years ago

With the specs on the Spark EV, it will be the FASTEST EV beside Tesla.

· · 5 years ago

Let's do some basic math. GM targets 500,000 cars sold by the end of 2017. From that wording, this implies a cumulative sales, not annual. However, they also say they want to sell 100,000s of eAssist annually by that time (note the plural). If they sell 100,000 through 2016, 200,000 in 2017, that's 300,000 of the 500,000 cars. My guess is that they're planning on much more of that 500,000 to come from eAssist. Doesn't sound to me like they are pushing the plug at all. Let's hope I'm wrong. Maybe they have a trick up their sleeves that we'll see at NAIAS?

· · 5 years ago

That's for sure, MMF. The situation of that powerful motor fitted into this unlikely little eco-sedan is slightly reminiscent of GM's introduction of the first overhead valve V-8 in 1949. The unlikely auto that this engine premiered in back then was Oldsmobile's somewhat pedestrian 2 and 4-door family car offerings of the day. It didn't take long, though, for those Rocket 88 engines to show up in any number of hot rods, typically stripped down Ford Model Ts and As. Chevy didn't have a V-8 of its own until 1955, so the first two model years of the Corvette featured a warmed-over version of the venerable inline 6 under the hood.

My point of retracing all this post-WWII automotive history is to emphasize that GM would do well to consider offering a small and lightweight 2-door with good aerodynamics and handling to take the best advantage of that torquey 114hp motor. I'm sure owners of the first Spark EVs will have fun laying rubber on the pavement until then.

· · 5 years ago

Because of the controversy over the EV1 some people forget that GM has more experience building EVs than anyone else, including Nissan and Tesla. The Volt contains some bits of DNA from the EV1 such as the T-shaped battery pack. In the US market the Volt is outselling every other plug-in vehicle COMBINED. GM might not be your favorite automotive manufacturer but they are certainly not amateurs.

· · 5 years ago

GM are not amateurs true.. But it is disconcerting for them to take credit for every single automotive advance. Like, the Volt is the ONLY important Electric Car. Or, This Spark will "set the Standard.". I know a couple of GM retirees and they all talk like that all the time.

Interesting that these Big GM pushers don't own a Volt.
I'm obviously a happy Volt and Tesla owner. But I don't begin to claim that either vehicle is the BE ALL END ALL.

Its usually GM's arrogance that always gets them into trouble with everyone. After all, Ralph Nader won the biggest lawsuit against a corporation in history, and of course it was GM.

· · 5 years ago

@Bill Howland,

Marketing people are SUPPOSED to brag about their products. IT'S THEIR JOB!!

I think GM does have some bragging rights, though. From a GM press release:

"Like the battery system used in the Chevrolet Volt, the Spark EV’s battery uses an active liquid cooling and heating system, which ensures improved reliability over the life of the vehicle, while providing year-round performance in all climates."

· iletric (not verified) · 5 years ago

120 miles please!

· · 5 years ago

Doubt if we're going to see a 120 mile range on the first iteration of the Spark EV, ilectric.
But a respectable 80 miles of normal driving should occur with a 20kW pack.

When I got to poke my head underneath the rear end of a gasoline-powered Spark last month, I was pleasantly surprised to note a cavernous amount of space under there with a tiny gas tank seemingly floating in space. The hope is that there won't be much need to take away any cargo space with the EV version.

Hard to tell from the above photo if the checkered area is one of those fabric "bras" or not. But anything to de-emphasize the Mack Truck grill of the current Spark is a welcomed addition.

Now . . . let's see if something can be done about those praying mantis headlight pods . . .

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

GM makes vague commitment to cars with plugs?? HELLO-OOOO!!! Did you miss the news? CHEVY VOLT SETS ANOTHER SALES RECORD......CADILLAC ELR SOON TO DEBUT......

And now they bring out a pure BEV, the Spark, and PlugInCars virtually writes it off. Just what does GM have to do for you guys to give them any credit for what they are doing to lay a foundation for an enduring EV market segment?

Whether or not the Spark catches on with buyers remains to be seen, but it does appear GM did some serious development work with it, unlike Nissan's sloppy job with the LEAF. Nice battery management... quick off the line performance.... if it is priced right it could end up being a very impressive contender.

· · 5 years ago

Anon. says . . .

"Just what does GM have to do for you guys to give them any credit for what they are doing to lay a foundation for an enduring EV market segment?"

Well, actually make and sell them, for one thing. The Spark EV isn't here yet and has no set price. It's almost a given that it will be a California-only compliance car at first, with no announced time line as to when it will be available elsewhere.

The Volt is sweet (I got to live with one for a couple weeks) but isn't a pure EV. I wish Chevy would simple offer a straight electric version of it or market an all-electric Cruze . . . which is something that already exists, at least in prototype form . . .

I also wouldn't exactly call the Leaf "sloppy," even though there were hot weather battery issues that are now being addressed. I had a similar "live with" experience with one and found it to be well built with excellent city driving performance.

Earlier today, I got to take a seat inside a Mitsubishi i, which is the first one to arrive in our town. Nice little car . . . unfortunately, the driver's seat wouldn't go back far enough to allow my 6'3" frame to stretch comfortably and this would be a real issue with me.

We all want to see the Spark EV generally available, Anon. But none of us are holding our breath until it actually happens.

· · 5 years ago


"GM makes vague commitment to cars with plugs?? HELLO-OOOO!!! Did you miss the news? CHEVY VOLT SETS ANOTHER SALES RECORD......CADILLAC ELR SOON TO DEBUT......"

From other articles I've read it's obvious that Eric Loveday has a bias against GM.

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

Interesting info in your link. I always thought the Chevy Cruze EV WAS the Chevy Volt, hehe.

· · 5 years ago


Hope you read this subpost. Seeing as there is such a difference between US pricing and Australian pricing, why couldn't you just get a US Volt as well as a $499 Voltec (runs on 195-245 volts single phase, 14 amps) put an
Australian Plug on it to your "power point", (I believe that is your Aus terminology) and ship it to Queensland??

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