By on July 22, 2013

As GM starts rolling out the Chevolet Spark EV, starting in eco-friendly California and Oregon, Automotive News has a look at the marketing challenges the newest electrified car from America’s largest car company. AN raises the issue of GM’s electrification strategy, which is focused on battery electrics, not conventional hybrids, and the sui generis Chevy Volt. While hybrid sales this year are up, EV sales continue to be lukewarm which has resulted in significant price cuts on cars that run on batteries: $4,000 off the price of the Ford Focus Electric, $6,400 off the price of a Nissan Leaf, and GM itself started offering a cash rebate of $4,000 last month on 2013 Chevy Volts.

Analysts consider the Spark EV to be a “compliance car”, built and sold solely to meet California’s environmental laws, which require automakers to make zero emissions vehicles. GM denies that, but the company also said that initial production numbers of the Spark EV, built in Korea, would be modest and the automaker would not cite specific projections, and as mentioned, the Spark EV is currently only available in California and Oregon.

Interestingly, it looks like GM will not be marketing the Spark EV on its environmental credentials, but rather as fun to drive. The electrified Spark can get to 60 in 7.6 seconds and Chevy is even running ads touting the fact that the Spark EV’s 400 lbs/ft of torque is not just the most in its class, it’s more than the Ferrari 458 Italia puts ou.


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19 Comments on “GM Will Market Spark EV’s Performance More Than Environmental Cred...”

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    It does seem like the Spark EV might make more sense for many people than the larger and pricier Volt. It’s also less geeky-looking, for those who prefer to fly under the eco-radar. But surely, at the cited prices, the Spark EV is *clearly* a loss-leader, so I don’t blame GM for limiting its radius of sale for the time being.

    It’s worth noting, too, that they did a great job with the Spark in picking a name that could refer both to an ICE and an electric vehicle.

    • 0 avatar


      I’ve noticed in my area, in which seeing anything smaller than a civic is rare, that the spark is doing amazing, I’ve seen about as many sparks as I have volt, leaf, and cmax combined.

      I do enjoy the break from the environmental cred, that kind of stigma hurts electric more than anything, many people think corruption now when something is marketed as “green”, very off putting. Nothing like trying to sell a product that puts of images of……..
      A sporty EV with great handling and gobs of torque would help the image a lot.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Spark really should have gone with a 6.6kW or greater charger for its L2, 3.3kW in a pure battery EV is insufferable IMO. Maybe they can put 2 of those motors into a CUV along with a higher-powered charger and better battery? GM should be able to outdo the Teslota RAV4EV..

  • avatar

    Having driven both the Volt and the Leaf, I can say for sure that these cars have more going for them then just green cred.

    NVH and low-end torque are fantastic on booth cars. And it sounds like the Spark may do even better, by the numbers.

    EVs are just different, though. Riding the Leaf away from a stop sign is like riding one of those linear-accelerator roller coasters, but it peters out at high speed. My recollection is that the Leaf is comparable to a 4-cylinder car at 70mph and my intuition is that it would be lackluster at 80. In other words, GM might compare the Spark’s 0-RPM torque to a Ferrari, and it’ll mash you into your seat (as much as the TCS will allow) when pulling away from a stop. BUT, they probably put that motor in there so that it can keep up with highway traffic. There’s nothing wrong with a car that has great low-end performance which whines and wheezes at 90mph, but the whole picture is way more interesting than than the marketing people would like to admit.

    I like these cars a lot, I ask myself why I’m not driving a Leaf two or there times a week. If the Spark can beat it fair and square in a test drive (when my budget allows me to shop for a 3rd car), I’ll gladly give GM my business. These little EVs are fantastic for stop-sign gauntlet commutes, but there are a lot of tasks for which they are not well suited. Let’s not pretend that a one-dimensional comparison between an EV and an explosion-engine-car is an apples-to-apples comparison.

    • 0 avatar

      The Spark EV does not poop out at the higher speeds like the Leaf does. With all that torque, GM chose to gear it in a long-legged fashion while the Leaf and other EVs are not. The result is the Spark EV will pull strong all the way up to its governed top speed limit, which means at highway speeds it can pass other cars with ease.

  • avatar

    I’d be curious what the range is at a steady 78 MPH.

    • 0 avatar

      The range indicator in the Leaf I drive read 52 miles at highway speeds. The reason was twofold: 1) the manual recommends only charging the car to 80% on a daily basis for the life of the battery and 2) a lot more drag.

      I was cruising at about 73 and not really driving in steady-state conditions, though, and everyone knows that drag increases at the cube of velocity. In other words, I know ,y number is wrong, but I can’t tell if its low or high – but its probably sort-of useful anyway.

      In other words, if you’re asking that question, a small EV probably isn’t the right tool for whatever you’re doing. A B-class gas car, a Prius C, or a regular Prius may be a better fit (Honda pun intended) for your application.

      On the other hand, I drive 2.5 miles to work down a 45mph road. The big box stores are 10 miles away, which is as far I go on a regular day. And anything longer than that is a prairie crossing road trip that’s best done in my minivan. If I use a Leaf as my DD, the van will last forever and I don’t have to buy gas to get to work. EVs are still a niche technology, and my patterns are what the niche looks like.

  • avatar

    tumbleweed has performance too when there is wind. this go cart is for teens of the wealthy who give kids what they want rather than what is good. other than that it might work for those needing a wedge for tight parking. the attempts at making this pile of crap appealing is funny to watch.

  • avatar

    For the fluffos who think torque is the factor most influencing acceleratioj, note that the Ferrari 458 Italia passes 100 mph in 7.5 seconds from a standing start. 30 mph takes just 1.4 seconds.

    You’d have to be a full time mouth breather or a Chevrolet marketing exec to point out that for a split second, the Spark EV and the Ferrari have the same torque, neglecting such trivia as gearbox and axle ratios, but why perturb the masses? McDonalds burgers contain beef, but so do Kobe steaks. There is some difference, I’ve been led to believe, but a big dollop of ketchup evens it all out for the true marketer.

    • 0 avatar

      As long as the automotive press still likes to talk about absolute torque numbers, this racket will continue. Absolute torque numbers are incredibly silly, and mean nothing. What you really want (for driving) is the horsepower graph: it tells you how much power you can have at any moment. The torque graph is largely important for tuners: it tells you how volumetically efficient the engine is at any rpm. If you left anything on the table, the torque graph will tell you.

      The maximum horsepower number tells you the fastest it will accelerate (for however a brief and glorious moment. You need the graph and average it between gear shifts to know how you will really accelerate).
      The peak horsepower location will tell you a bit about when to change gears (but you really want the whole graph).
      The peak torque will tell you how big the engine is and a little about breathing efficiency.
      The location of the torque peak will tell you a lot of how it is tuned. A low peak will indicate “a lot of torque” while a high peak will indicate a high strung “you will be shifting a lot” requirement to getting the power out.

      Torque has a specific meaning: it refers to the twisting force around an axis. In automotive engineering, it means the maximum twisting force around the driveshaft (before transmission). Either they are commiting fraud (or weaseling in such a way that “journalists” will write down what they think they heard) or they simply produce that much. It doesn’t mean that they can produce that much torque at rpm higher than 2000 (and probably not that much).

      Torque comparisions between gas engines largely make sense. Comparing gas to electric likely won’t; they are apples to oranges.

      For a whimsical counterpoint: a 300lb. man needs a bicycle with pedals 1’4″ long to have 400lbft of torque on his bicycle (reality is probably something like 70% of that since this will be true only when the wheel is dead sideways). Don’t expect him to get to 60mph without a steep hill.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree on all points.

        But remember that 60mph at the wheel is around 1200rpm, and the Leaf (the Spark’s best known workalike) has a direct drive transmission.

        How much wheel torque does any car have in 5th gear? How much wheel torque does the Spark have with the wheels turning at 2000rpm? My tewst drive of the Leaf suggests its enough to do passenger-car tasks competently, but dufferent enough to affect the driving experience. But the Spark is supposed to have some extra torque, so it may be moire fun too drive than the Leaf at high speeds.

        • 0 avatar

          The rest of the EVs currently have 1 speed transmissions but they are not direct drive, they have some reduction. I’m sure that the Spark EV will have some gear reduction too. In the Leaf it is 7.94 to 1, so at a wheel rpm of 1200 the motor is spinning at about 9500 rpm.

          Concerning any electric motor they make their peak torque at 0 rpm, where there is no Lenz effect to limit current flow, but their peak power comes at 1/2 of free speed and they are most efficient at somewhere between that peak power point and the peak torque point often near 40% of the free speed. Sure torque gets you off the line but power defines how quickly you can do work.

      • 0 avatar
        Vipul Singh

        Perhaps ‘total area under the power curve’ is the term you are looking for.

        For acceleration scenarios in a single gear (not including traction limited cases), a vehicle with more area under its engine’s power curve between idle and redline would out-accelerate another with lesser area under the power curve (assuming weight and cd are comparable)

        Torque curve is a determining factor in the total area under the power curve, since a torquey engine would result in a sharp kink in the power curve from a low RPM, leading to more area under the power curve

        Also, ceteris paribus, an engine with high peak power but lesser area under he power curve between idle and a specified RPM would not be able to accelerate a given vehicle as quickly than an engine with lesser peak power but more area under the curve

        • 0 avatar

          Note that while I expect “area under the curve” will work fine for a Spark, a Volt uses a CVT and can just crank out whatever torque it gets from 150hp (note that the internal CVT motors may limit tire shreading torque at the wheel at low speeds). I’m not terribly familiar with electric motors in general and Tessla’s in particular, but I’d be willing to guess that a lot of “area under the curve” is only usesful for burnouts (torque at the tire is way higher than the tire can support. Presumably also true the first 30′ of a Spark’s drag race, followed by a dissappointing finish).

  • avatar

    I’m just not understanding why mfgs are selling these compliance cars outside of CA where the ZEV mandate applies. I do understand why they are offering them in WA and OR. One of the Nissan dealers in the Seattle area constantly advertises that they are the number one Leaf dealer in the US and they are all over around here. Interestingly Ford didn’t make the Focus EV available in WA initially despite the fact that we have that #1 Leaf dealer and in general they are selling like crazy at least in the greater Seattle area.

    • 0 avatar

      Automobile manufactures haven’t been known to stick to the facts and instead go for fluff and nonsense. Right now a local new car dealership is putting out a TV commercial featuring some Smoky And The Bandit BS.

      Getting back to EV’s I wonder how many times the charging station is used at one of the local Nissan dealers. Being Oklahoma everyone here seems only interested in pickup trucks and SUV’s.

      (I kinda like the Versa base sedan. Before I was poor I was cheap.)

    • 0 avatar

      Not all of these vehicles are compliance cars at least in CARB terms.

      Nissan is trying to sell the Leaf in niche-car volumes (at least), though trying to leapfrog Toyota might have something to do with it too. Same with the Volt – it was outselling the Corvette at my local Chevy dealer when I test drove one last fall.

      The Focus EV and the Fiat 500 EV both show evidence of being compliance cars. I don’t know enough about the Spark’s sales plans to categorize it. Basically, any car available in my part of the Midwest probably isn’t a CARB compliance car, though CAFE could still bne a factor.

      Tesla is clearly not a compliance car, though they’re not above padding their bottom line by selling pollution credits.

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