EV-Modders Wait for Electric Chevrolet Spark

By · October 31, 2012

The Spark, Chevrolet picture, standard gasoline model

The Spark, Chevrolet picture, standard gasoline model

The electric Chevrolet Spark may not be very exciting to car enthusiasts. It's a very small city car with limited road abilities. Some may also question its look, but here's the best thing: it's a Chevrolet. Because there is something about Chevrolet that doesn't exist in any other brand, and that is parts availability.

Chevrolet makes high performance cars like the Corvette. The ZR1 version is a true supercar that stands out because anyone can walk into a Chevrolet dealership and buy its 600 hp V8 engine with no questions asked. It's not that easy with European brands. The customer would have to explain to a dealer what model he owns, and if he doesn't have own one, the dealer could refuse to sell an engine. In other words, there's no obligation to a non-customer.

This is where an electric Chevrolet might be a huge opportunity. Sure, the Chevrolet Volt is already there, but it's nearly impossible to reuse its parts in any other car. The T-shaped battery requires a specific chassis and its electric motor is too well integrated with the internal combustion engine (ICE).

Cutaway of the electric Chevrolet Spark

Cutaway of the electric Chevrolet Spark

There are a lot of EV enthusiasts who dream of converting an old car to electric drive. Some have already bought a car for that purpose, but the conversion is not that easy. Installing the battery pack is the easiest part. Replacing an ICE by an electric motor behind a manual transmission is also doable, if you're a DIY type.. But then it gets tricky. Connecting the motor, the inverter, the charger and the battery sounds easy, but making them work properly in the most efficient manner is difficult. Things would be considerably easier if it were possible to source the motor, the inverter, the battery and everything that makes them work together from a single supplier. Could Chevrolet be that supplier?

Porsche 550 Spyder replica, with optional Chevy electric drive?

Porsche 550 Spyder replica, with optional Chevy electric drive?

Let's hope GM is thinking about it. All the other companies in that market are either very small or they don't deal with private customers. The Chevrolet Spark has been rumored to come with a 85-kW motor. Nothing's known about the battery yet, but the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive has 17.6-kWh pack, despite having a smaller motor, so we may expect something similar in the Spark. It doesn't sound like much, but old cars are much lighter than newer models, so it should be enough for many uses. A 85-kW motor and a 18-kWh battery pack would be fine for an old Volkswagen Beetle. GM made something unusual last year, it released a video explaining how an electric motor works.

Nothing's known for sure but this video is a clear signal that there people who believe in EVs at GM. Let's remind them that there are several companies making kit cars, with the Porsche 550 Spyder a favorite. Some people have already made electric versions. An electric dune buggy could also be nice. There are today several British companies building AC Cobras replicas with Corvette engines. A lot more people, from all different background, could build EVs if only there was a complete electric drivetrain from a well-known brand on the market. That appears to be in the works.


· · 5 years ago

An interesting article, Laurent, that diverges off in multiple directions. I'll address the Spark's motor and the idea of using it aftermarket EV conversions on a later post. We don't often talk about do-it-yourself EVs here on Plug In Cars, so this is a special treat.

Regarding the Spark's battery: I'll have to check old references to confirm, but I think it's been stated to be 20kW in size. While the fate of A123 is in limbo right now (will Wanxiang Group or Johnson Controls ultimately get possession?,) we're fairly certain that A123's proprietary LiFePO4 technology will be used and (we hope) the EXT variant that was announced earlier this year. This is the one that works well in temperature extremes and may dictate that an active cooling system might not be needed.

Notice on the cutaway illustration in your article, though, the rather large enclosure for the battery. This may indicate a liquid cooling scenario, like found on the Volt. Also notice on that drawing what appears the be an SAE J1772 Combo plug.

· · 5 years ago

OK . . . I've got a few more minutes here, so I'll delve into the motor. In addition to that video, here's an online article with nice cutaway illustrations . . .


. . . and another article, where a writer for Car & Driver got to build an example . . .


This is going to be a pretty powerful motor for a car this size. Its rated to have a peak power rating of 85 kW (114 hp) and sustained power of 56 kW (75 hp.)

Compare this to the Nissan Leaf, which is a larger/heavier car than the Spark (and with still quite good performance in the city,) which has a motor rated at 80kW (110hp) peak.

The current 4 cylinder motor in the standard Spark is a comparatively paltry 83 hp (assumed to be peak rating, as this is how ICE powerplants are typically measured. So the Spark EV promises to be fairly peppy.

· Volume Van (not verified) · 5 years ago

Certainly Spark-EV should be better than Smart-EV as its a 4 seater and I hope it will have a decent range and affordable price.

Chevy sells more affordable cars than Benz. Especially now that Tesla is successfully selling Model S with a 160 mile range, Chevy should be trying to replicate the same.

· · 5 years ago

Now, getting to the idea of using it in an aftermarket application (ie: putting one of those Spark EV motors into a VW Beetle kit car) . . .

Given that the 1500cc Beetle engine of late 60s/early 70s vintage was only good for about 45 peak hp - and the Porsche 550 fiberglass kit car body you show is going to be both lighter and aerodynamically far cleaner than the old Beetle's shell - the Spark's EV motor in that car would make that it a real screamer!

You'd probably have to beef up the old Type 1 VW transaxle, though, unless you want it to fail. Fortunately, this is a common thing, since converted Beetles of this vintage are still used for off-road dirt racing and stronger-than-stock aftermarket Type 1 transaxle components are plentiful. Finding suitable gearing might be a challenge, however.

Also . . . I'm not quite sure why you think that Chevy would be all that interested in selling new motors in wooden shipping crates to the EV converter crowd. There are already sources for upscale AC motors and related controllers from any number of sources, such as AC Propulsion and Metric Minds. But it will be interesting to see what happens in a few years, when any number of older Leafs and the like end get banged up and make it to the wrecking yard, where a motor/converter combo might get purchased and installed into an EV kit car project.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 5 years ago

I liked the video. Usually on overly simplified explanations (and this is one of them), they LIE. But this was accurate, as far as they went. Looks like , if the video is to be believed, that the Spark will have one induction (with standard aluminum bar rotor) and one synchronous (Perm Mag) motor in it.

As far as chevy sourcing things, I wonder if these actually come from the Japanese synergy drive manufacturer a la the volt. Maybe THEY would be more than willing to sell one of their existing designs.

Before too long, you wonder when any of the standard big motor manufacturers will be coming out with 'Car Duty' AC motors. DIY's have been using DC ones for a while, and they seem to be fine.

Some articles make a VERY BIG DEAL out of the AC / DC difference, but I don't. Either AC or DC motors can be compact, economical, and trouble free.

I have never heard of the 200 watt Bosch Generator on the 62-66 VW failiing (it was 140 watts earlier). I had a 40 hp 1200 cc 1964 VW engine, and Ben N. , I remember they rated the 1300 cc 1966 beetle as 50 hp. Before someone says thats so horribly old fashioned for 1964, most people never had to dress the commutator with soapstone (an easy maintenance job), not even replace brushes... The thing just worked. Alternators with integrated regulators on modern cars should be much more reliable, but depending on the car, are anything but. The old 60's bosch generator put it to shame, but then Robert Bosch at the time designed things to LAST.

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

Ok I'm registered, I have a jpeg image of myself but when i click and drag it over the green Gif thingy plugincars disappears. Any idea how to convert formats?

· Bill H. (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

Here's a video of me charging my car 13 months ago..


IF you go to


you'll see a picture of me next to my Tesla. The 6' 7" dude in the hat owns the French Fry Oil Mercedes wagon which he let me drive and it was a lot of fun.

· Jesse Gurr (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Bill Howland
Talking about DC and AC motors. There is a bit of a difference. DC motors can be small but takes a hit in power, bigger = more powerful.

With AC motors that isn't exactly true. You can have the inverter take DC and output high/low frequency AC. With AC motors, increasing the frequency allows you to reduce the size of the motor while keeping the same power rating. If memory serves me right.

· Bill H. (not verified) · 5 years ago


Uh, you're confusing several things together. Ok, motors (Ac or Dc) can be either slow, or fast for a given power output right? An Ac motor's synchronous speed, (which is the speed an induction motor tries to get to but never does) is (120 * HZ ) / # of poles
Hz (Hertz) used to be called Cycles per Second.

Therefore , once the AC motor is manufactured, the only way you have to change the speed of it is to change the frequency. DC motors are actually more versatile in this respect because there are games you can directly play with the magnetizing field.

Bigger = more power? Not necessarily. My Tesla has a 4 pole induction motor in it about the same size of a watermellon. It peaks at 265 hp. That's compact for the power it can develop. Its because it is such a screamer (14000 rpm @ 125 mph).

examples: 2 pole 25 cycle induction motor : 1500 synchronous, 1450 actual while running as a motor, 1550 while running as a generator.

6 pole 60 cycle induction motor: 1200 rpm synchronous, 1160 actual motoring, 1240 overhauling, 1199 no load.

I've also seen AC motors 12 feet tall that were only 150 horsepower. Of course, they were only 100 revolutions per minute.

· Jesse Gurr (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Bill H
That AC motor that is 12 feet tall and has 'only' 150hp, those suckers aren't used for their horsepower. They're used for their torque. Usually to stamp steel or something like that.

745.7 W/hp * 150hp=111,856 Watts ~ 112 kW motor
T=Power / Speed = 111856/(2*pi*100/60) = 10,681.5 n-m = 7,872 lb-ft of torque. That is massive. I guess our idea of 'more powerful' is a little different if you think that motor isn't powerful.

Just because the motor is slow doesn't mean it isn't powerful. Quite the contrary in that case. But the problem is that it isn't made for auto use.

I was just saying that you can have a 'physically' smaller AC motor that can put out the same power, or torque, as a comparable larger DC motor. You have seen pictures, no doubt, of the generators at Hoover Dam. 60 cycle generators are large so they can generate the amount of power wanted, and still stay at 60 hz at synchronous speed. They could be smaller if you wanted, say, 600hz, but our electrical system runs at 60hz so we need AC generators that can produce that at sync speed.

I could get into more detail, Electrical Engineer, but that will take time and, unfortunately, my lunch break is over

· · 5 years ago

Hey, Bill, welcome to the club. Just remember to log in each time you post here and I think you'll find the blog software really works better for you.

After you've logged in, you can go click the "My Account" link at the top/right corner of any page and this will take you to you're profile settings. Just get a picture you like and put it in a photo editing program (Photoshop, iPhoto, etc.) and crop it square. Then put it on your computer's desktop. The blog's software allows you to search your desktop and upload it here. Don't forget to click the "Save Changes" button when you're done editing anything on your profiles page.

Also . . . get used to using the "Home" button at the top/left corner of the site's page to navigate around here, instead of clicking the "Back" button on your web browser.

Enjoyed scanning through the YouTube video (I'll give it an unedited view later today.)
Is that Coleman Hawkins' music in the background?

· · 5 years ago

@ Jesse Gurr\

I got 7,875 foot pounds of torque, but we're close.
You are an electrical engineer? I'd make some friends with mechanical engineers then. Power is power. A clock motor with a 1: 2000000 gearbox can generate alot of torque but its not powerful. The powerfulness of a motor is its horse-power. Great name huh? Units that actually mean something.

Hoover dam generators are basically sized for the supposed reaction turbines driving them. I'm not sure what size Hoover has but I can tell you they are slow, and that is pretty independent of the frequency output. They are slow bacause the water running through the turbine is slow (85 mph on a huge volute). This is such a simple concept I don't understand why you could possibly get this confused about it. The generator has to be designed to accept the mechanical power available. Speed step up gearboxes are uneconomic at these power levels.

EX: The original Niagara Falls power plant had 250 rpm machines. 25 cycles per second.

The current Niagara Power project has 124.14 rpm machines running at 60 hz. Why so slow? Because the turbines driving the generators are huge diameter and therefore the tip speed is high (only thing that matters in a centrifugal machine). Produces 300,000 horsepower per machine, where as the orginal 25 cycle machines were either 5, 10 or 20,000 horsepower each.

They couldn't be smaller at 600 hz, in fact a 600 hz machine is much larger than a 60 hz machine due to the increase in the number of poles. The generator speed has to match the turbine producing the power and not the other way around.

Lets see if that Great Brain Objective is still hiding in the inky shadows: Here's a second question for him.

Why is 600 hz impractical to ship long distances? After all, all the transformer cores would need less iron and would be alot cheaper to make than 60 hz ones. So why is 60 hz the preferable frequency even though 600 hz would be cheaper? I'll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with motor speed.

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

Yeah the pics thing aint working, but I don't want to take that buffalosoapbox pic of me cuz its the most unflattering pic of me there is. When I tilt my head down I look like a bald dude with glue on hair.

The music was Fats Waller's piano teacher. Since your a home improvement type dude you'll remember the old "This Old House" (PBS) theme song that they used until about 4 years ago that was called "Louisiana Fairy Tale"


Its a decent song. Better than the current one.

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

After checking out the above link, click on the "Honeysuckle Rose" side bar, its a "Soundie" , which is like a MTV video, but with Talent. That was a key difference 85 years ago. People who were famous had to do the sweat to become talented FIRST. Then they got famous. James P. Johnson, Thomas Waller's piano teacher, was actually better than he was, but he was such a quiet, reserved guy that Hollywood couldn't use him. Not so with Fats. His sweet talking got him many entertainment jobs, and kept him out of jail several times by some carefully chosen fast talking.

· · 5 years ago

@ Benjamin Nead..

Hey could you do me a favor Ben? send a dummy email to William_E_Howland@yahoo.com and I'll send my photo to you. Could u shoehorn it into my green spot? Since you're freinds with Brad I'm assuming you can pull the strings to do that. Thanks.

· · 5 years ago

I can't - and shouldn't - access your personal profile here, Bill. But I'm sure I can walk you through the process, step by step, of uploading a photo onto your profile. Will contact you off line.

And, yes, James P. Johnson and Fats Wallers are marvelous. The Bop pianists, like Bud Powell and 'Dodo' Marmarosa are my favorites.

· Jesse Gurr (not verified) · 5 years ago

You sir are correct. As you can tell I don't have much experience with electric motors. Only a couple years out of college. I was under the impression that the generators were spinning faster than 100-200 rpms. Although I did find a website that documented the original generators as spinning at 107 rpm at 70,000hp. Couldn't find anything for the current Niagra gens or Hoover dam though its probably about the same. Water flows through channels and hits a turbine that turns a gear that turns the generator.


I love talking about this stuff though, gets me questioning and studying. Even if I am wrong sometimes, it's still a good learning experience.

So then couldn't you re-gear the gen to have it spin faster with less poles? I think it said from the link that the originals had 6 poles. Could you reduce it to 4 poles spinning faster? Or 12 poles spinning slower?

Anyway, that question is pretty simple i think. I may get it wrong but let me take a crack at it. It is because of inductor impedance on the line. Higher freq. = higher imp. I should at least let objective give the equation. Everything is a trade off. How about the difference between a 3-phase system and a 6-phase system. Why not use a 6 phase system? Pretty simple answer.

· · 5 years ago

@jesse Gurr

No, I dont' have current information either, and I'm kinda wrking from memory, but your numbers sound reasonable. in that if they are not correct, they COULD have built it that way... AS i've mentioned before the problem is the gearbox. There haven't even been gearboxes made for the power levels you are talking about, I'm not saying there couldn't be, its just that its easier to intrinsicly match the speeds required with the equipment. With personal preference, sometimes gear boxes are used. But on the scale of a hydro plant, there is simply too much money and effort at stake to use the gearbox solution. Direct Drive is always used since its saves mucho $.

Interesting that you bring up 6 - phase, you would have to draw up the exact connection for me since there are several different 6 phase connections used for totally different purposes. I'll elaborate if you're interested but won't bore others otherwise.

I'm not ready to show my hand just yet; to clue you in, this user OBJECTIVE (yeah, what a name right?) has claimed he's a Brilliant Electrical and Nuclear Engineer, and that he's "Forgotten more than I'll ever know.". But yet when you ask him an engineering question, he thinks the total SKILLSET is to LOOKUP things, so I made sure I asked him a question where you couldn't look it up but you'd have to calculate it. Here's the question:

""So I gave him this problem, which I'll drop a few hints since I'm sure he'll read it.

"Here's a question to see if you know anything at all. I'm in the downtown area of any major city on their many decades old Network System. I have a single element 2 wire water heater running on the highest voltage the NS can produce. Assume a short, thick wire run between the serving utility and the heater,. What is the power factor and sense on each phase of the transformer bank supplying only this water heater with other loads shut off?"

Here's a few hints for him. If he doesn't like a water heater, then pretend its a big 1000 watt light bulb.

The transformer bank can be individual pole transformers, and start solving the problem but calculating what is going on at the output of each transformer.

3rd hint: The problem can easily be solved in your head, by just thinking about it without a pencil, paper or calculator.

It is a "minimum information problem", but it is in no way a trick. It just determines whether objective is this great power engineer he says he is. """"\\

I've claimed for months this dude is a 14 yr old kid hiding behind a keyboard and he hasn't yet even attempted to answer question #1. lets see how he does with #2.
I'm no psychologist but I'm assuming his DAD is an operator at a local nuke plant.\\

AS regards the distribution thing (question #2), you are right that line Inductance would be a problem but this could be tuned out with capacitors, or in an extreme case (very high voltage) with transformers (cheaper at 600 hz ) to bring the voltage with in the realm of cheap 'tuning capacitors". Nope there's another BIG BIG reason, and its BIG enough so that its never done. I'd leave another hint but that might give it away totally. Maybe next time I'll give the next hint. hehe. But this dude objective has basically vanished. Maybe he's getting too red-faced. Jesse I think you said you're a serious 23 year old electrical engineer. Good! America needs more guys like you. Best of luck to you.

· · 5 years ago

Lots of talking! This is precisely why I believe the Chevy Spark will be so good. No talking, no testing, no tuning, you will be able to buy the whole propulsion system knowing it will work because Chevrolet engineers have spent a lot of time making sure it will.

I just wonder if it will possible to buy only the parts, or if you'll have to buy the complete car. The car might be cheaper.

· · 5 years ago

I'm pretty sure, Laurent, that buying the entire pre-assembled Spark will be cheaper than purchasing the drive components separately . . . but that buying the parts from GM will be possible.

Many are probably waiting a few years for the first generation of OEM EVs to end up in wrecking yards, so they can get clean used examples of parts they're after. A low mileage Nissan Leaf that suffered a significant rear-end collision, for instance, will probably still have a good motor and other matching components up front. It might take a few years to shake out, but there will eventually be a very interesting assortment of EV parts that can be purchased this way . . . and at a fraction of the cost of buying brand new.

· · 5 years ago

@Jesse Gurr

Hi, that link you gave was very interesting, I think it was from the 'latest' 1927 additon to the Schoelkopf plant (which collapsed in 1956 into the gorge)

Interestingly, at the time of calamity, or just prior to it they were aware they were underutilizing a natural resource since the Treaty with Canada allowed them to use much more water. That problem doesn't exist today. Both we Americans and the Canadians take every drop of water we both legally can.

Interesting that the nameplate of that 1927 machine said 107 rpm. It had to be actually exactly 107 1/7 rpm. hehe.

· · 5 years ago

@Jesse Gurr
That nameplate referred to the machine in the top picture. The bottom picture is curious in that a casual viewer could think that all exists today. Actually, the bottom picture in your link shows 1895 (George) Westinghouse 250 rpm 25 hz 5000 hp machines. IF you look at the picture you will see the generator frames (under that curious T-Bar mounting) are blurry? That's because these had a strange 'Rotating Stator' design, and they are spinning around at 250 rpm ! That's right the Whole Machine! On a tour somebody set their umbrella against it and the umbrella went flying through a window. heheh.

· · 5 years ago


Sorry, brain fart, rotating field. What I meant to say is usually the stator is on the outside and the rotating field is on the inside? These 1895 machines were wierd in that the relative locations were reversed.

· Jesse Gurr (not verified) · 5 years ago

I wonder if those are the designs that they are testing for use as in-wheel motors. with the outside rotating instead of the inside. That would work better than the common(normal) design. That design is coming back in fashion, like a lot of clothes that went out and now are coming back in.

· · 5 years ago

Hello everyone!!!
I´m from Madrid, Spain and I´m very interested in electric cars. I´m finishing my studies in Industrial engineering and i would like to work in the electric car sector, in particular in the field of electric motors and electricpowertrains. I would be very grateful if you, as great experts of this world, could tell me companies in Europe and US that work on this like: Continental, Tesla...
You would be a great help for me because I´m finding pretty difficult to get information of what i have to do or go.

Thank you very much.

· · 5 years ago

Welcome aboard, Martinez . . .

It appears that you have chosen a very good field of study to become involved with electric cars. My advise is to get good grades at school and start to introduce yourself to representatives of the European auto manufacturers who will be producing electric cars . . . Renault, BMW and Mercedes come to mind. The Japanese companies that are committed to this technology include Nissan and Mitsubishi. Here in the US, it's General Motors and Tesla. These Asian and American companies all have a presence in the European auto market.

Not everyone on this blog works in the electric car industry. Most of us are simply private electric car owners or are wanting to own an electric car someday and enjoy learning more about them. If you are formally studying the technology in school right now, you might end up becoming one of the "great experts of the world" yourself. Please stay in touch with us and let us know how you make out. Good luck.

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