Yesterday I test drove several next generation General Motors (GM) automobiles, including the Chevrolet Spark EV. Targeted to arrive in selected California dealerships during summer 2013, the compact yet powerful Spark will surprise drivers who are skeptical of electric vehicles (EVs) with its performance due to what GM described as a revolutionary motor and drive unit.
Despite the criticism of the Chevy Volt’s fitful on-again then off-again production, the plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) Volt had its best month of sales last month. Now GM is transferring some of the Volt’s technology to the Spark, a trailblazing EV for several reasons. First, its electric motor will be the first of its kind that an automaker will produce entirely within the United States. Plus the Spark’s propulsion system components, including its rotor configuration and bar wound copper stator, are the foundation of this next generation car that is surprisingly fun to drive and, of course, emissions free on the road.
But with the Spark’s “green” credentials comes performance that will shock many drivers. The 130 horsepower Spark boasts 400 lb.-ft. of torque that will leave conventional ICE cars of its size in the dust. We could not take the Spark off-site because it is not yet in production, but on one stretch, I was able to use my lead foot and experience the engine’s power that allows rapid yet smooth zero-to-60 mph acceleration in as little as eight seconds. In addition, the Spark offers the quiet ride typical of other EVs. The steering column is surprisingly tight for a car of its size. An intuitive dashboard that offers both entertainment and updates on the car’s fuel performance rounds out the Spark’s benefits. The exact range is not yet official as GM is in the midst of certifying the car’s exact specifications, but expect the Spark to exceed significantly the Volt’s current 35 to 38 battery-only mile range. Some drivers will scoff at the Spark’s size–but for commuters who can recharge at the rail station or office during the day and then home at night, the Spark could become far more than simply an adequate automobile for those content with a vehicle for hauling kids, running errands or taking short hops on the local highway.
For GM, the Spark could become an important step forward for GM’s announced goal of having up to 500,000 electric vehicles on the road with some sort of electrification by 2017. According to Mary Barra, GM’s Senior Vice President of Global Product Development, the company is on track to sell 50,000 non-ICE cars by the end of 2012. EVs still face challenges including “range anxiety,” costs, a public dubious they can offer superior performance at a low price and the lack of infrastructure that can create headaches due to the lack of charging stations. Nevertheless the Spark packs plenty of punch–and along with its other EV and PHEV cousins could catch on when the price of gasoline spikes yet once again.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.
Disclosure: GM covered Leon Kaye’s transportation costs and accommodation in Marin County.
Image credits: Leon Kaye, GreenGoPost.com