No… not the EV
We attended both the Los Angeles Auto Show and the San Diego International Auto Show in an attempt to drive the new 2013 Chevrolet Spark EV. No such luck – although we pretty much new that going in. So we did the next best thing at the San Diego show. We drove the gasoline version to get a feel for the mechanics, drive, and quality of the basic car. This is what we found.
The Spark, even though it is the third generation of the Daewoo M100 on which it is based, still very much offers up the feel of a low-cost Korean car. General Motors (GM) bought Daewoo Motors in 2001 and went into production in 2002 as GM Korea. Obviously, they continued with the core designs that drove Daewoo out of business. Somehow, we don’t see this as a promising business strategy. Ten years later one would think that GM could have created some new models. With an investment of only $400 million split amongst GM, SAIC, and Suzuki, GM apparently sees Daewoo – we mean GM Korea – as a cash cow that they intend to operate with as little additional investment as possible. Our experience in the Spark reflects that. Perhaps by calling a Daewoo a Chevrolet it could prove to be a profitable business strategy after all. Assuming one can live with the product.
The Spark was small and uncivilized, even in our short drive. After our recent experience in the newly re-designed Smart Electric Drive (found here), we know that this does not always need to be so. Our family of five would not fit in the miniscule Spark interior, even if there were room for three in the back seat. And none of our kids have made it to their teens yet (and yes… we are dreading the day). GM did have the foresight to throw in some nice technology – there is a brilliant 7 inch screen to display a smartphone resident navigation app. Introduced in March as GogoLink, it is now being referred to as BringGo (a much better name we think). Rather than build high dollar technology into the car (that will not be able to keep up with mobile technology advancements), GM has chosen to integrate the owner’s smartphone into the vehicle and display the smartphone video on the 7 inch monitor on the instrument panel. This will then also incorporate the smartphone mulitmedia apps, as well as turn-by-turn directions with an on-screen video navigation solution. We think that this path to managing technology will ultimately be adopted by all manufacturers to avoid the total inability of an auto maker (any auto maker) to keep pace with the technological advancements occurring at the pace that they do.
Chevrolet touts a post-incentive price of under $25,000 which will put Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at around $32,500. This is awfully close to the expected lower price offering that we expect to find from Nissan after the first of the year. Close enough that one would seriously have to consider the advantage of the somewhat lower price of the Spark as compared to the room, civility, and quality of the LEAF.
But one of our biggest concerns made itself known when we went back inside at the show. The same dis-membered Spark EV that was on display at the LA Auto Show was also on display in San Diego. We were able to get closer this time, and took a peek underneath to check out the underside of the battery case. The top of the case is fiberglass, as is that of the Chevy Volt. What we did not expect to find was that the base of the case was also made of fiberglass. Chevy claims that the Volt battery case bottom is made of steel. This is a huge structural differential between the two, and an even greater one with the LEAF. The LEAFs entire battery pack is surrounded by a sealed steel case. With a smaller, lighter car offering less protection to the battery pack, we see this as a potential source of significant damage to an expensive battery pack in any sort of side impact collision. Yet another reason to seriously think about laying out your hard earned cash for the upcoming Spark EV.