I took a few days off in December for a vacation, flying out to New Mexico just in the nick of time to avoid the rise of the Omicron variant of COVID. I’d need a rental car to get from the airport in El Paso, Texas, to Las Cruces – and to tool around town a bit, maybe.
Being on an automotive journalist’s salary and knowing I’d likely never have more than one passenger at a time, I decided to go the least-expensive route and get a compact – “compact” by the rental-car company’s definition, but subcompact per the EPA.
“Nissan Versa” or similar, the Web site said. Not great, but something I could live with for a few days. I didn’t need a lot of space or comfort.
General Motors joined the vast majority of its automotive colleagues in having a crappy sales month in September, posting an 11.1 percent year-over-year volume loss. The issues facing OEMs last month were many. As interest rates rise and the market cools, automakers looking to capture more for their coffers are trending towards reduced fleet sales and lowered incentive spending. Hurricanes also played something of a role.
At GM, which graces us with sales figures just four times a year, what was likely a poor showing in September dragged down the third quarter as well as year-to-date sales, with volume since the start of the year now down 1.2 percent. That doesn’t mean several GM models didn’t have good quarters, or haven’t had good 2018s. Some 18 models can boast of YTD sales gains.
Of those 18, however, just four are passenger cars, and one member of the group already has one and a half feet in the grave.
Last week it was the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic and a report that the little four- or five-door could bite the dust by the end of this year. Now we hear the Spark — General Motors’ smallest U.S. offering — could also be on its way to the nameplate graveyard.
Oddly, the Reuters report, which cites a GM Korea spokesman, comes just a few days after the unveiling of the refreshed 2019 Spark. Like other Gamma II platform small vehicles, the Spark comes to us by way of Korea. As you know, that embattled division is currently struggling for survival, and it doesn’t much like the look of America’s falling Spark sales.
So, what would replace the Spark and give GM Korea’s threatened factories a safer product bet? You already know the answer to this. A crossover.
The sub-subcompact “city car” segment is one of those rare occurrences where Canadians have it better than Americans in terms of choice and price. While the U.S. fields just two of these tiny runabouts (the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive does not count, and we’re not counting the Fiat 500, either), Canucks can warm their frozen cockles knowing there’s three four-door, ultra-cheap models waiting for them at local dealers.
Not only that, but all three models carry an MSRP in the four-figure range. Just barely, but in a country where an A&W Uncle Burger cost your author $9.03 last week ($9.03! No combo, either), this is tantamount to bank robbery.
So, as we take a look at the changes Chevrolet has in store for its 2019 Spark, let’s gauge the overall health of this tiny segment — north and south of the border.
Question for ya. When does it become imperative that one must have a new car? The 2018 Chevy Spark shown here stickers for a mere $13,050 before incentives (and, yes, there are incentives, even at the Ace of Base end of the market.) Thirteen large can buy a heckuva used car, after all.
I’ll tell you when it becomes imperative: the minute a full warranty becomes more important than being thrifty. Whatever the reason, there’s intangible value in having a reliable commuter car or sending a family member into the big bad world in a car that won’t leave them stranded with an unexpected repair bill. As much as some of us would like to, it’s not always realistic to drive $1,000 Malaise-era clunkers.
I don’t think I heard the term “MVP” used in software development until six or seven years ago. It doesn’t mean “Most Valuable Player,” nor does it mean either of the two rude but hilarious things from the “roasting” episode of Arliss, neither of which would be appropriate for a family website like TTAC. Rather, it means “Minimum Viable Product.”
The purpose of an MVP is to get your software out there in public usage so you can both obtain user feedback for future development and earn enough money to fund that future development. Google is well known for doing this: its original search page was the very definition of MVP compared to the monstrous multi-purpose interface that it is today.
You can make the argument that some non-software products out there are also MVPs. The toothbrush and toothpaste you get at a Holiday Inn Express when you’ve forgotten your own Black Series electric? That’s definitely a minimum viable product. When most young people furnish their first dorm room or apartment, they are definitely looking for their own MVP. When you’re traveling for business and they call closing time at the bar, you’re going to take a very open-minded view of what constitutes that minimum viable product for the evening.
What about cars? What’s the MVP of the modern automobile? Contrary to what some of the B&B believe, it’s not a 200,000-mile Corolla or Volvo. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you gotta be rich to own a cheap car. Let’s look instead at what the minimum viable product might be for someone with very limited mechanical knowledge. Someone with no tools, no covered parking, no garage in which to service, no high-school buddy who now owns an import repair shop. In other words, a reliable vehicle with low cost of entry, low cost of operation, and a high likelihood of starting and running at all times.
What would that look like? What would it cost?
General Motors launched its Maven rideshare service in 2016 with the goal of providing renters with a taste of its vehicles, while also bringing in a little extra revenue. The service offers a wide array of vehicles ranging from small hatchbacks like the Chevrolet Spark to large SUVs like the Tahoe.
The service is available in many larger cities across the country and, since I was visiting Detroit for the auto show, I decided to give it a try to see what a potential renter might encounter. I signed up for the app and rented a couple of vehicles without notifying GM in order to experience the vehicles just as the general public would.
The vehicles were far worse than I expected.
Base model. What does that image conjure? Vinyl seats? Tinny AM radio? A low rent penalty box on wheels? A few years ago, you’d be right on the money. Driving misery was available for voluntary purchase at the showrooms of just about every major car maker.
Now, though … it’s tougher to find. This series has focused on vehicles out there that, in their cheapest guise, won’t make you cringe with each pull of the driver’s door handle. Here’s an example.
I could live with this car … under a couple of conditions.
Air conditioning is a must have, and I may have told you about the need for an aftermarket shifter solution.
But GM Canada’s $9,995 2016 Chevrolet Spark LS, which lacks A/C and a tolerable shifter, is nevertheless an acceptable place to spend time. Though it drives with far less verve than the not-sold-in-Freedomland $9,988 2016 Nissan Micra S, the Spark is the more comfortable and refined option.
Up the price with an array of options and the argument for North America’s second Chevrolet Spark falls apart. As a $10,000 car, however, there’s a case to be made.
Are you sure you want to save the manuals?
In theory, of course, you want to save the manual transmission. You enjoy driving. You enjoy enhancing the man-machine connection by synchronizing movements between your left foot, right hand, and right foot. You value the art of a perfectly timed shift, of properly holding a gear through a corner when even the most intelligent automatic would upshift. You know the corner. You know driving. You know how to get the best out of a Ford Fiesta ST half an hour before sunrise on Italy’s Stelvio Pass, even though you’ve never set foot outside Iowa, even though you drive a RAV4 Hybrid.
“What? I would’ve gotten a manual if Toyota offered one,” thou doth protest too much.
As we approach greater degrees of autonomous driving, as roads fill up and speed limits are not altered to reflect our vehicles’ huge improvements in stopping ability and safety, saving the manuals sounds like a noble campaign. Preserve that last shred of pure driving already forsaken by Ferrari, by performance-oriented Porsches, by the general populace that believes their right hands are better off holding a skinny cinnamon dolce latte than a leather-wrapped shifter.
But I’m driving proof, a $9,995* 2016 Chevrolet Spark, that we shouldn’t paint with such a broad #SaveTheManuals brush. We should save some of the manuals, but certainly not all of them.
General Motors’ 2016 Chevrolet Spark LS does not have power locks.
Correction: as shown in the high-production-quality video embedded below, the 2016 Chevrolet Spark LS has a mysterious power lock, singular.
For an advertised Canadian base price of $9,995, or $11,595 with destination charges, the 2016 Chevrolet Spark is at once both very well equipped and decidedly spartan. This is not the Ford Festiva you inherited from your ex-girlfriend’s uncle. “The bumper and hood are no good,” he told you, having recently run into a deer. “But she runs pretty good.”
No, in the base 2016 Spark, there’s a backup camera, for example, and antilock brakes, a bundle of air bags, decent seats, Bluetooth, and WiFi availability.
There’s also a bit of magic.
The Chevy Spark Activ, marketed as a “soft-roader” in India (where it will soon be sold as the Chevy Beat Activ), shows up in the CARB document as a 2017 model, alongside the regular Spark.
The official launch of the first-generation Chevrolet Spark played out like a detective in a comedy film who has to go undercover in a high school, all the while clumsily pretending to be hip. It was an awkward pander to the Millennial first-time car buyer, set to too-carefully chosen music.
With refreshed and updated small car models on their way (or already here), General Motors wants young people to rediscover their often overlooked bottom-rung vehicles, so it left the marketing to experts.
There comes a moment when it’s time to try something new. Like switching to an iPhone after using a Nexus and promptly learning that the iPhone can bend. Or wearing a mechanical watch rather than a quartz watch, only for it to stop ticking after it was on a nightstand for the weekend. Moving to a house from an apartment and dealing with the perils of home ownership, such as property taxes, having to clean gutters, and the inability to have the building manager fix the broken kitchen faucet. My trying something new involved testing an electric vehicle for a week.