Chevy Spark EV Expands to Europe and Korea

By · July 23, 2013

2014 Spark EV

The Spark EV is getting around, beyond California to Korea and Europe. (GM photo)

The Chevrolet Spark is an international car, designed by General Motors in Korea, and the company intends to sell the plug-in electric version of it there, as well as in Europe.

I know what you’ve been thinking, given GM’s low-key relationship to its only battery vehicle so far, but the Spark EV (82 miles of electric range, 119 MPGe) is proving far more than a compliance car. The company signaled it’s really interested in moving this battery-only product by offering the Spark on a $199 a month three-year lease, just like Nissan, Fiat and Honda ($259, but with a free charger thrown in). The Spark EV purchase price is still high, at $27,495.

Ultimately, the Spark EV is not a “pump and dump” exercise. GM wants it to get some traction, and is working on other members of the EV family to complement it.

Korea on the Move

So why sell the Spark EV in Korea? Because the market there is really serious, with subsidies that can amount to a third of the purchase price. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, plug-in hybrids and battery EVs together could make up nine percent of Korean auto sales by 2020, and 22 percent by 2030. And because it’s a big auto market, we’re talking about four million sales by that latter date. The Korean government has a target of producing 1.2 million “environmentally friendly” cars and trucks by 2015, representing 21 percent of auto sales.

2014 Spark EV in Korea

The Spark EV is already a Korean car, so why not sell it there? (GM photo)

Also, GM Korea, currently producing 40 percent of Chevrolet-branded vehicles, is becoming the company’s EV center. In March, Sergio Rocha, CEO of GM Korea, told Reuters that its operations would be the source of the company’s next international electric. That car, he said, “would be slightly bigger than the Spark small car and use a thoroughly new design, unlike the Spark EV which was based on an existing gasoline engine model.” Batteries will also be Korean-sourced, from LG Chem. According to Roland Berger, South Korea will be producing 4,200-megawatt-hours of automotive battery cells annually by 2015.

Europe: Starting Slow, Gaining Momentum

As for Europe, it’s been a slow-growing market for EVs, but it’s ramping up. Sales are running around 4,000 a month now, but should improve with new models and a more widely available public charging network. ABB just announced a rapid charging network for the Netherlands that should put more than 200 fast chargers at key roadway service stations by 2015. With full government backing, there are now 165 such chargers in Estonia—more than in the U.S. The big per capita success story is Norway, where the subsidies are really significant.

The Spark EV could be a big seller in Europe and Asia if the company makes the same price concessions there that it’s made in the U.S. It’s already a familiar model worldwide. The Spark in all its models has been a runaway success, with 275,228 sold globally in 2012, and 720,000 since 2009 (when it debuted in South Korea). Sales have exceeded expectations by as much as 35 percent. In the U.S., with sales only in California and Oregon so far, the success is more muted—the Spark sold 14,484 through May, where it’s been eclipsed by the Ford Fiesta (28,801) and Fiat 500 (17,562).

Little Acorns

The electric Spark? In the very limited window from the first sales June 19 to the end of the month, 27 were sold (of 75 shipped). That’s not a lot of cars, but the Nissan LEAF, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV and even the Tesla Model S actually did worse in their early days.

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