2012 Los Angeles Auto ShowJust the Facts:
- Chevrolet says the 2014 Spark EV will do zero to 60 in under 8 seconds.
- Powerful electric motor produces 400 ft-lb of torque.
- Spark EV will go on sale in the summer of 2013.
SAUSALITO, California — General Motors must be proud of its first all-electric vehicle since the late-and-lamented-by-many EV1. After all, the company brought nearly 50 journalists from the U.S., Mexico and Canada to this picturesque seaside town this week to show off the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV that it won't officially introduce to the world until the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show on November 28.
But the auto industry's natural inclination to let information trickle out at a slow, measured pace rather than flow freely trumped pride when it came to turning those same journalists loose with the car.
Oh, the Spark EV was driven, but only for a few short loops around the parade ground at the luxury hotel that occupies the grounds of the decommissioned Ft. Baker, at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge's northern terminus. That's a drive of less than 2 miles in all.
GM did release some information it had not previously disclosed, but none of it was really interesting stuff, such as the car's price or how far the four-seat electric car will go on a single charge.
What did come out is that the 2014 Chevy Spark EV will feature a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack paired with a high-power coaxial electric motor and single-speed transmission that combined are capable of delivering 130 horsepower, 400 pound-feet of torque and 0-60-mph acceleration in under 8 seconds (GM's numbers, not ours). The new Spark EV will have a 3.3-kilowatt charger, which means it will take about 6 hours with a 240-volt "Level 2" charger — the standard home charging unit — to fully replenish a depleted battery pack.
Mary Barra, GM's senior vice president for global product development, also said that the 2014 Spark EV will be a global car, available in more than the limited U.S. and Korean markets already announced, and that it will be sold as well as leased.
Still, it will only be sold in a handful of EV-friendly markets in the U.S., at least at the start. That's a tacit admission by GM that the nation isn't yet clamoring for, or even inquiring politely about, electric vehicles.
Selling it outright, though, means the automaker is satisfied that whatever the purchase price turns out to be, the people who plunk it down won't be dissatisfied and longing to get rid of the car after a few years — which a lease would allow them to do.
GM says the Spark's price will be "competitive" with the likes of Ford's $39,995 — before subsidies — Focus EV. Company executives say they've pared Spark development and production costs by using electric drive system components developed for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the company's dual-mode conventional hybrid system.
In an all-too-brief drive, the Spark EV proved to be fairly comfortable for a subcompact; demonstrated that the claimed acceleration is probably right on (the thing does get up and go); and showed that, like most every EV, its low-slung and weighty battery pack (560 pounds) helps it stick to the ground and handle corners with little body roll and lots of verve.
The battery pack and its associated electronics and electric-drive components more than make up for the weight lost by removing the gasoline engine and transmission. The 2014 Spark EV weighs a hefty 2,869 pounds, 26 percent more than the 2,269-pound gasoline-powered version.
GM, which has had experience with the aforementioned EV1 — produced from 1999-2003, only for lease and only for the California market — and the extended-range plug-in hybrid Volt, managed to keep road noise to a minimum in the new Spark EV. That's a good trick when there's no gasoline engine rumble in the background to help mask sounds like the rush of wind and the song of the tires.
While range wasn't disclosed, there are instruments onboard the Spark EV that tell you how many miles you are getting per kilowatt-hour of battery power consumed. The figures differ depending on how heavy-footed the driver, but in a fairly modestly paced run around the 10-acre Ft. Baker parade ground circuit the Spark managed 3.1 miles per kWh. The industry rule-of-thumb average when discussing EV range in general is in the 3.5-4 miles per kWh range.
Splitting the difference and giving the Spark EV credit for 3.25 miles per kilowatt-hour and a 98 percent depth of discharge (using all but 2 percent of the battery's stored energy) renders a range estimate of 64 miles. Using the industry average of 4 miles per kWh would result in a range of approximately 78 miles. We'll have to wait until GM and the Environmental Protection Agency release official test results to see if the official Spark EV range number is better or worse than that guesstimate.
Inside, the Spark EV is outfitted pretty much like its siblings, the chief differences being on the instrument panel, which is lozenge-shaped and doesn't have the big clock-faced analog speedo of the ICE model, and the addition of a "Sport" button for the transmission. Punching it dials up the throttle response, which makes the little car feel sportier, indeed, and also helps burn electrons a little faster.
But that's part of the game. Making EVs appeal to a broader audience is necessary if automakers are going to have any success with them, and if it involves tricks like sport settings and special EV-only paint schemes then that's what will be done.
At least until the magic happens.
The magic is when battery scientists attain the breakthroughs that will enable automakers to offer EVs that go at least 150 miles on a single charge of a battery that doesn't cost more than a two-week European luxury vacation for a family of four. And when there's sufficient pubic charging infrastructure in the nation to enable EV owners to drive pretty much wherever they want without fear of being stranded and returning home on the back of a flatbed tow truck.
GM is working on both issues.
On the charger front, the Spark will be the first EV to be sold in the U.S. offered with an optional combination charging port that can accept the new "universal" charging connector that serves both the standard "Level 2" charger and the new U.S. and European-spec 480-volt "Level 3" charger that can deliver an 80 percent charge to a depleted battery pack in 30 minutes or less. GM also is working with a variety of charger manufacturers, utility companies and government agencies to encourage widespread installation of publicly accessible charging stations.
In separate sessions during the day-long program Wednesday, both product chief Barra and John Lauckner, GM's chief technology officer, said the company is fully dedicated to the plug-in electric vehicle — a segment that includes both battery-electrics like the Spark and plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt. Barra said that plug-ins and EVs at one end of the spectrum and the eAssist micro-hybrid system on the other end will now take precedence over conventional gas-electric hybrids in GM's portfolio.
The company has its own battery development, battery pack manufacturing and battery testing facilities — way ahead of other U.S. automakers in that regard — and Lauckner said it is investing in and partnering with battery development firms working on new chemistries and other improvements that can bring down costs and increase energy density — a requisite for longer range.
Lauckner said he finds it "reasonable to expect" that the next generation of lithium-ion batteries, expected to hit the market within the next five years — will be as much as 50 percent cheaper to produce and deliver twice the energy density as today's best EV batteries.
Edmunds says: So much to hope for, but the potential gains in energy independence and security could make it all worthwhile. Meantime, zero to 60 in under 8 seconds is a pretty impressive milestone for a small commuter EV!