By on August 5, 2011

For most Americans, the term “small car” typically refers to a C-segment sedan like the Honda Civic or Ford Focus, cars that now qualify as midsizers in many key metrics. Subcompact, or B-segment cars are generally considered the smallest of the small, as their name implies… but ask an American to describe a car smaller than a subcompact, and they’ll likely look at you quizzically before hesitantly suggesting “Smart car?” Yes, the A-Segment, known in Europe as the “City Car” or Microcar” class, is such a rarity in the US that it’s basically synonymous with the one car “competing” in it (Fiat’s 500 hasn’t quite broken into the public consciousness yet).

But, with Chevy execs confirming once and for all that the on-again-off-again (for the US) Chevy Spark (a.k.a. Daewoo Matiz Creative) will in fact be sold in the US (likely as a 2013 model) early next year, the American A-segment is about to get a whole lot of attention. But the question is this: does the fact that America’s first new A-segment car in a decade is a Chevy help or hurt the segment’s chances (consider that previous US A-segment cars like the 500 and Smart are positioned as premium offerings)? Is this car, with its 80 HP/82 lb-ft, 1.2 liter engine a pioneering game-changer that will introduce America to a whole new world of tiny cars, or is it just CAFE compliance fodder? One thing is for certain: everyone from Hyundai to Ford (which have the i10 and Ka waiting in the wings) is going to be watching the Spark with great interest.

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49 Comments on “Are You Ready For: A 1.2 Liter “Sub-Subcompact” Chevy?...”


  • avatar
    natebrau

    IMNSHO-

    The “A” segment will sell in the U.S. provided the cost is sufficiently small. The Versa shows there is a space for a <$10k new car here in the U.S. (Despite turning into an $3.50/gal, and the manufacturers don’t price themselves out of the “value” segment, the “A” segment will be as much a winner here as it is elsewhere in the world.

    • 0 avatar
      Petra

      I agree. The reason the Smart has been a failure is that they want a premium price for it, without any of the brand cache or performance offered by the new MINI. If it were possible to sell the Smart for $9995, they’d have no problem moving the things. For the Sonic to be a success, Chevy must learn from the mistakes of others.

      I for one hope that the microcar market heats up. After all, it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast… :)

      • 0 avatar
        drylbrg

        The Smart also doesn’t get the mileage that its size would lead you to believe. There are much larger cars that get as good or better. Add in some driveability problems and you have the recipe for a sales bomb.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The Smart also doesn’t get the mileage that its size would lead you to believe. There are much larger cars that get as good or better.

        Here’s a list of non-hybrid gasoline-powered cars in the US that get higher fuel economy than the Smart:

        _______________

        (Yes, the list has nothing on it.)

      • 0 avatar
        LeMansteve

        “Here’s a list of non-hybrid gasoline-powered cars in the US that get higher fuel economy than the Smart:

        _______________

        (Yes, the list has nothing on it.)”

        But the Elantra, Focus SFE, Civic HF, Accent, Cruze Eco, etc etc all are breathing heavy down the Smart’s neck, all being rated at 40mpg highway. Practically just as good as the 41mpg highway rating of the Smart.

      • 0 avatar
        tikki50

        yep and its not like 1 MPG is going to change my buying habbits. Im tired of the we win we have 1 MPG more than YOU. Actually I’ve always wondered when it comes to milage how many people shop with that in mind and whats the range/scope they shop for. Example: 30 and up is 28 ok? etc. I dont see reports on that type of buying habits. Personally Idont trust the numbers anyways.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        But the Elantra, Focus SFE, Civic HF, Accent, Cruze Eco, etc etc all are breathing heavy down the Smart’s neck, all being rated at 40mpg highway.

        The Smart fortwo gets 33 mpg city. That’s 3-5 mpg better than those other cars, none of which have higher than 30 mpg.

        The Smart has many things going against it. But fuel economy is not one of them.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        This is the highway/city mileage disconnect.

        When we talk mileage on auto sites, we either talk EPA highway (if it’s a normal car), projected Euro highway (if it’s a tiny miracle Eurodiesel that’ll outdo the Prius) or some mythical highway figure north of 40mpg (if it’s some eighties-vintage crapbox that would fold like an accordion if it hit a bicycle).

        No one, but no one, ever uses the city figure. Ever.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        No one, but no one, ever uses the city figure. Ever.

        It’s a trick that GM has long used in its advertising. The fact that highway MPG is irrelevant to the stop and go traffic that many drivers spend their time in doesn’t seem to concern them.

        In any case, the Smart gets higher MPG that other cars. It may be tiny and unimpressive, but the fuel economy is not inferior to other cars on the road.

        This Smart-gets-lousy-fuel-economy meme is very popular online, but it’s just factually inaccurate. That doesn’t mean that everyone should be running out to his local Smart dealer, but the claims are not correct.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        “No one, but no one, ever uses the city figure. Ever.

        It’s a trick that GM has long used in its advertising. The fact that highway MPG is irrelevant to the stop and go traffic that many drivers spend their time in doesn’t seem to concern them.”

        Sorry, but I’ve got to call BS on this one. No one in the US ever uses the city figure, ever. You can look at the ads as far back as the 1970′s and generally speaking the city mileage is in tiny little letters, while the highway mileage is in huge letters.

        http://www.adclassix.com/ads2/75fordpintoline.htm
        http://www.adclassix.com/ads/75datsunb210.htm

        The Datsun ad is particularly egregious, but not unusual. I’m not really picking on Ford and Nissan, but this was typical back then, and everyone did it, not just the domestics.

      • 0 avatar
        TR4

        “No one, but no one, ever uses the city figure. Ever.”

        They did for at least one year in the early 70s when the ratings first came out. There was only one rating which happened to be the urban cycle. The Yank tanks with their 12mpg looked pretty bad compared to the Jap imports with 22mpg especially when the price of gas junped from 30 cents per gallon to 60 cents. I bet there was a lot of lobbying going on to come up with the misleading Highway rating!

    • 0 avatar
      natebrau

      Weird- the server ate the rest of my post, cropping out the entire middle of it.

      Anyway- the 2012 Versa is now $11k, 2011 was $10k. Any “A” segment vehicle should have that as its main competition. That $10k price point is necessary to avoid the question “Why don’t I buy a bigger car for the same cash?” (Imagine that- the small Versa is the bigger car!)

      The only two comparison points currently selling in the U.S. in the “A” segment, Fiat 500 and Smart are both >$15k, and neither sells in quantities. Kind of implies that there’s no demand for a “premium A segment.” But an inexpensive, value A segment?

      If the Sonic can be priced right, there’s no question it’ll sell. So that’s the $64000 question- is Chevy willing to compete as a value brand and price the Spark right? Or are they trying to move Chevy upscale, and make it a aspirational brand? The brand managers are probably arguing for aspirational, but it’s pretty obvious to the rest of the world that that’s a mistake.

  • avatar
    LectroByte

    Isn’t this about the same size as a Honda Fit? Or is it even smaller?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It’s smaller than the Fit or Yaristubut bigger than the Smart. The Scion iQ is about this size, as is the 500.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this and the iQ are priced. They could make sense, but they’d need to be much cheaper than the 500 and Smart to get traction as they aren’t treading on kitsch.

    It’s a good idea, as long as GM doesn’t do something stupid and decide that GMC and Buick also need microcars.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      It’ll be interesting to see how this and the iQ are priced.

      My guess is that the average Spark will be priced at about $26.99 per day, plus any airport surcharges. Be sure to ask for the CAFE Special, because that’s what this is.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        You know, I doubt that it’ll be an ubiquitous rental if for no other reason than that’s why the Impala still exists. Something like this is little too boutique.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I doubt that it’ll be an ubiquitous rental if for no other reason than that’s why the Impala still exists.

        CAFE doesn’t distinguish between fleet and retail sales. Selling these to Avis will help them to sell Camaros and the like without paying fines.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Do you really think Avis will by these, though? Or that GM will sell them at enough of a loss to make it worth the problems it would cause Avis et al?

        Wait, don’t answer that.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Do you really think Avis will buy these, though?

        If they can make money on renting them, then of course they will.

        Put yourself in GM's position:

        -You don't want to pay CAFE fines
        -Your brand identities are still largely associated with larger cars (read: cars that use more fuel)
        -You need to move a certain amount of units in order to amortize costs.

        So what would you do? Once you build them, you have to sell them. If you can retail them, you will. But if you can't, you're not going to just dig a big hole in the desert and bury them there, you're going to sell them into fleet.

        And since you're already committed, you're going to get what you can for them, even if you're selling them at a loss. The alternative is to selling them at a loss is to not sell them at all, at even a greater loss.

        That being said, if the public likes them, then this point will be moot. And if they're smart, they'll manage their production targets so that this is less likely to be a problem.

        But CAFE could skew their production targets so that they build to excess, depending upon what else is selling. The Cruze may prove to be a big help in that regard, and its retail numbers seem in absolute terms to be pretty impressive.

      • 0 avatar
        PintoFan

        I think you underestimate the willingness of American consumers to buy truly small cars. Ford sold millions upon millions of Pintos to everyday Americans, a car that i’m guessing is roughly equal in size and power to what this new car will be. If it’s there and it’s cheap, people will buy it. The Aveo wasn’t just a rental special, either. Plenty of normal people went out and bought one.

      • 0 avatar

        @PintoFan – guess again. The Spark’s 6.5ins narrower than the Pinto and pushing 2ft shorter (ok, I exaggerate a bit, but 19.7ins is a significant difference).

        You make a good point there though (just not the one you’d intended) illustrating how far out America perceptions of “small” are when it comes to cars. Ed’s dead right that there just haven’t been any small cars (globally speaking) on the american consumers’ radar for a very very long time. If ever.

    • 0 avatar
      BobAsh

      iQ is much smaller than a Spark. It’s also much more expensive and vastly better.

      Spark is just a monumental POS.

  • avatar
    mtr2car1

    Unless the Spark can undercut the new, larger and well recieved Nissan Versa’s base of $10,990, I’m not sure how it’s going to win.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I’m thinking that Americans have an extreme distrust or fear of anything that has less than about 120hp. Perhaps thinking that it won’t be able to get out of its own way, let alone get out of a faster vehicle’s way.

    My guess would be that we’re still trying to shake off the residual effects of the horsepower wars. Then again, I haven’t been cognitively involved in the auto industry or followed automotive news for that long.

    EDIT: I would also think that the mileage numbers need to be really good considering the mileage numbers for the Smart are something of a joke considering what you give up (space) to attain it. I don’t know how the Smart comes in terms of interior amenities since I’ve never been in one.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    Put in the turbo 1.4 from the Cruze Eco and sell it under $9K and I’d buy one right now.

    Something tells me that they aren’t going to be able to do that, though. Price is going to kill this thing if it’s high enough to be within optioning distance of an Aveo or Versa.

  • avatar
    SilverHawk

    The Spark may actually enter the US market with a 1.4 liter engine, but the important thing is the fact that it is an A-segment, being offered by a major American brand. The Chevy brand will definitely help to ease consumers into this size of car. Every “A” would enjoy the power of the massive Chevy dealer network behind it.

  • avatar
    NN

    This is the spiritual return of the Chevy Sprint of the 1980′s (which eventually grew into the Geo Metro).

    It’s CAFE fodder, and since it’s more of a pure Daewoo than other GM products it will probably be awful. GM has never cared about this segment, and has always outsourced it to Suzuki or Daewoo and made it as cheap as possible.

  • avatar
    brettc

    If GM decides to sell the Spark, it needs to be cheap enough (Versa/old Accent price range) and powerful enough. If it’s light enough, 82 hp will be fine. But if it struggles to merge on a highway, no one will buy it. I had an ’85 Jetta diesel with 52 hp. Plenty of power for city driving, but merging from a ramp or trying to pass on a 2 lane highway were not fun. So as long as it doesn’t have those problems, I can see them selling to people that don’t need a “big” B or C segment car.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I can’t find it now (damned MLive!), but there was a story in the GR paper about production beginning for the Spark in the Orion Township plant near Lansing. This was the only thing I could find online: http://tinyurl.com/4xuctdt

    I’m hoping this car is priced competitively, and has a decent list of standard features. That, and the huge dealer network should bode well for the future of the spark.

    Additonally, I saw some of the commercials done in other markets for this car. You can really tell these were done outside of the US, as they show a car being used as a car and people having fun with them. It’s a whole different attitude.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Eventually GM should learn to make light cars instead of small cars. The Sonic weighs 2,850 lbs, more than the best car companies’ compact sedans. The Daewoo Cruze has been measured at 3,232 lbs, as much as a full size 5-speed Accord LX. Will the Spark weigh as little as a Mazda 2 or Honda Fit? Small isn’t a virtue. Light is.

    • 0 avatar
      PintoFan

      When you set out to make a car with no sound deadening, no features, and awful ride quality and driving dynamics in general, it’s easy to be lightweight. Building a car that people actually want to drive and buy is another matter entirely. But I guess with this week’s CR announcement, “the best car compan[y]” is learning that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Just the ones that think fewer features and a worse driving experience somehow equate to “engineering integrity.”

      • 0 avatar
        kenzter

        +1. Suddenly NVH is a plus because it’s lighter.

      • 0 avatar
        PintoFan

        Anything is a plus when it’s got an “H” badge in front of it, for some people.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        That’s because the company earned that equity. The simple fact is that it built superior products for a very long time. Whether it blows that equity with decontented vehicles remains to be seen, but there is a reason that the “H” has commanded respect, and it’s not because people buying them didn’t know any better.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    If they can make the handling great (think Mazda 2), it should sell well despite the small engine. The only reason I bought a Ford KA new in 2008 was the fact that it drove like a go-cart, despite only having a wheezing little 8V 1.3 4 pot under the bonnet.

  • avatar
    JMII

    A guy at work has a Smart… everyone laughs at him. Its tough sell in a world of huge SUVs and 300 HP / 30 MPG Camaros and Mustangs. Of course in Europe everyone has these little “city” cars, same goes for the Kie cars in Japan. If priced accordingly they should sell if people get over the fear of being squished by a soccer mom on her cell phone.

    As for mileage +/- 1 or 2 MPG is not an issue with a car already getting 30-40, but its a huge deal on truck only getting 14!

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      A point: in Europe and Japan, people don’t buy Smart cars, or cars like it, in quantity. They do buy four-seaters of about the Smart’s size that cost less than what Mercedes tries to get people to pay, they buy motorcycles and scooters if they don’t need the space and they certainly buy subcompacts in greater numbers than we do.

      But the Smart? No. It’s a boutique car that requires you make significant compromises. I like it, but I make no bones that the missing rear seat is a problem for everyone everywhere.

      As for the “laughed at” factor, well, yes, that happens. I get a bit of that and I drive a Honda Fit. People stopped laughing when gas hit $1.50/L

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      If you are getting 30MPG out of a Camaro or Mustang on anything other than a long road trip, then you are doing it wrong.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Meh. How is this going to be better than a Fiesta . . . or is it just another Fiesta, except with a bowtie?

    My theory about how people perceive fuel economy is this: how much money does it cost to fill up the tank and how often must I do it? If you have a Suburban or something like that that costs nearly $100 to fill and you’re filling up once a week, you definitely notice that. Lots of people measure fuel economy by the frequency with which they need to fill up and how much it costs to do it. Which is why incremental 2-3 mpg differences in fuel economy just don’t register much with people. If someone is troubled by their fuel bill, they want to see a dramatic reduction, not just the cost of a lunch at Subway once every two weeks.

    Sorry, psar, I think the Smart is a stupid, useless car; and here in the U.S. at least, my opinion is shared. I get all of the arguments to the effect that the “average car carries 1.6 people” or whatever, which is a good illustration of the difference between practice and theory. In theory, numbers like that argue for a car like the Smart. In practice, most people want at least the capacity to carry more than two persons, absent special circumstances. What they are buying is utility, which also is why people buy the hated SUVs, even the small ones. A two person car that won’t even serve as a grocery-getter (even with only the driver in the car) is just not useful.

    The “special circumstances” that waive this rule are exemplified in the selfish, 2- person driver’s car, a.k.a. “sports car,” whose lack of utility is compensated for by other benefits (at least in the owner’s mind). Having owned one of these selfish devices for going on 8 years and now being faced with it needing to function as a truly “second car” even in a two person family (my kids having grown and left the household and my real second car having gone to college with my youngest kid), I am acutely aware of my 2-seat sports car’s limitations. I still enjoy the car for what it is and the ownership experience has been excellent, but it sure as hell isn’t useful (although it’s a better grocery-getter than the Smart). Heck, I can’t even safely give my golden retriever a ride, without risking killing him if the passenger-side airback deploys. (In static tests, he has shown a complete willingness to sit in the passenger seat, belted in with the seatbelt!)

    However, in better economic times I would be replacing my sports car with something that carries 4 adult people, at least some of the time, in not extreme discomfort (which takes the Mini Cooper, the Mustang and the BMW 1-series off the list — never tried the Fiesta).

    The new Focus, which I recently drove as a rental, seems about right. The Fit seems too much built to its low price, and I wouldn’t consider any two-seater, even if it got 4 mpg more in the city that the Focus.

    If I wanted a fuel-saving urban vehicle that couldn’t carry anything except another passenger and would be frightening if taken on a 65-mph highway (like the Smart), I’d get a Vespa. Much cheaper, more fun, better fuel economy. And I’d just take the bus on bad weather days.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I actually don’t disagree that the Smart isn’t a terribly useful car. I like them, but I don’t make any bones about the boneheaded product planning.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The Smart is the answer to a question that simply does not exist on this side of the pond – parking in ancient city centers where there is very little parking. They seem quite popular around Boston, which is probably the closest thing we have to an ancient European city in the US.

        Ultimately, while I doubt Daimler-Benz is making a ton of money selling them in the States, I bet they do turn a profit on every one they sell.

        And some people actually do buy only as much car as they actually NEED – I could have bought a well-loaded Suburban for what I paid for my 328i Wagon. But I have no use for a Suburban.

        And one further point, I find it funny all the pronouncements of how poorly the FIAT 500 is doing. They are popping up everywhere in my hometown of Portland, Maine. This despite the fact that there has been NO local advertising, and the local dealership building isn’t even finished yet. I think they will do just fine once they have thier dealers in place and crank up the marketing machine. The pricing is right on them for what you get. $16K is beer money these days.

        And any notion that Europeans are somehow all midgets would quickly be disabused by a visit to Scandinavia or Germany – some of these boys make me look like a little slip of a thing. Ditto that ridiculous meme about distances being short over here.

        The US is much less special than un-traveled Americans like to think it is.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      “…how much money does it cost to fill up the tank and how often must I do it?…”

      This is spot on with most people that I know. Some people I know just say that “a tank lasts me 2 weeks” or something similar. There is no mention as to how big the tank is. There are also plenty of people that are “$10 here, $5 there” whose cars probably will never see a full tank the entire time they own it, and consequently figuring out the mileage is next to impossible.

      The extra 1 to 2 mpg doesn’t really make much of a difference anyway if you’re going off of a gallons/100 mile type of thing. For example an Elantra will go 100 miles on 2.5 gallons according to the EPA estimate of 40mpg (the accuracy of which is always an issue), while the related – not sure how closely – Forte will go 100 miles on 2.86 gallons according to the EPA estimate of 35mpg. Going dollar for dollar at current local prices of $3.74/gallon the difference is $1.36 for that 100 miles.

      Long story short I think I completely agree with you. :)

      • 0 avatar
        slance66

        This is exactly right. I think Americans are beginning to be willing to shift from an SUV to a midsize, and from a midsize to a compact. I think even the B class cars are for a niche market that has a special personal feeling towards fuel economy or carbon emissions. The fuel economy justification for a Fiesta over a Focus is just not there from a purely economic sense, even with $4 gas (or an Elantra over a Sonata). So the cost of the car itself must be low in order to sacrifice the space, safety and convenience.

        Remember as well, Americans are large. I sat in an Imprezza and anounced it as far too narrow. My shoulders and elbows had inadequate room, irrespective of rear seat legroom. I’d bet that half of all Americans have no chance of fitting comfortably in an A class car.

  • avatar
    outback_ute

    Here are some figures for comparison, all 5dr versions

    Chev Sprint – L: 148.5″, W: 61″, H: 58″
    Aveo – L: 163″, W: 66″, H 58.5″
    Spark – L: 143.3″, W: 63″, H 61″

    Haven’t driven one since they have been on sale in Australia, nor do I want to, they seem to be a little sh-box. The Nissan Micra is a better option.

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    If I were them, I’d sell this in California only.

  • avatar
    SP

    I think GM can sell the Spark here. If the price comes in beating the Versa, I would guess they can sell about 40k-45k per year, fleet sales included. (Out of that, I would guess about 20k might be private buyers.)

    I don’t know if that qualifies as a worthwhile enterprise for GM … at a profit of $500 per car, that would be 23 million dollars. So I think it only makes sense if the car can be brought here with no extra effort whatsoever. Any change in equilibrium – need to switch engines, problems at a plant, anything … and the numbers will not work. Of course, the potential savings on CAFE fines might help balance the books.


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