Beyond The Numbers: The Spark EV Is Priced Well On Paper At $27,495, But Will It Sell?

2 years ago by Jay Cole 39

2014 Spark EV Priced From $27,495 (w/dest)

2014 Spark EV Priced From $27,495 (w/dest)

It was October of 2011 that General Motors announced the Spark EV would go into production.  Now, just a few weeks before the first electric Sparks are scheduled to show up at select Chevrolet dealerships in both California and Oregon, GM has finally priced it.

The Choice Of Donor Car For GM's First Fully Electric, Mass Produced, Vehicle May Come Back To Haunt Them

The Choice Of Donor Car For GM’s First Fully Electric, Mass Produced, Vehicle May Come Back To Haunt Them

$27,495 (incl dest).  And a collective Really?  That’s a lot cheaper than expected was heard from the plug-in community.

“The Chevrolet Spark EV is the most efficient – and now one of the most affordable – EVs you can buy.  Combined with outstanding infotainment and great design, the fun-to-drive Spark EV is engineered to impress.”  -  Chris Perry, vice president, Chevrolet Marketing

But will it sell well?

(those of you who only wish to read positive reports and forecasts about electric vehicles should now stop reading)

No.  No, it won’t.

While the Spark EV ticks all the right boxes on paper:  82 mile range, 119 combined MPGe, 400 lb-ft of torque good for a 0-60 time of “less than 8 seconds,” a $199/month ($999 down) lease deal  … it has two fatal flaws:

  1. it shares a platform with an internal combustion car
  2. that car is the Chevrolet Spark

Given that Chevrolet is tepidly launching the Spark EV only in California and Oregon, and offering it as a fleet only vehicle in Canada, GM knows it is not going to be an easy sell in North America.

If the General and avid followers of electric cars have learned anything in the almost two years since the Spark EV was green-lit for production, it is that electric car conversions of existing models are not met favorably.  Check out the 2013 year-to-date sales of plug-in vehicles:

EV Buyers Have Spoken With Their Wallets - They Want Unique Plug-Ins

EV Buyers Have Spoken With Their Wallets – They Want Unique Plug-Ins

Discounting the two months that Nissan had run out of LEAF inventory as they waited on the new 2013 model to arrive, the worst performing month from a “unique” plug-in (Chevrolet Volt @ 1,140 units) out sold the best month of any converted plug-in (Toyota Prius Plug-In @ 874 units) by a wide margin.

The best selling conversions in the US, the Prius Plug-In and the C-Max Energi,  have a lot going for them.  Their plug-in versions are extended range plug-ins of a very popular model, and those electric versions also offer a value proposition for customers already in the showroom looking at that model.

The Best Selling Conversions Are Also Value Propositions Over Their ICE Counterparts

The Best Selling Conversions Are Also Value Propositions Over Their ICE Counterparts

In other words, the customers buying the Prius plug-in (and to some extent, the C-Max Energi) were not necessarily looking for an electric car from Toyota or Ford, they were looking for a Prius or a C-Max…and ended up getting one with a plug attached.

This was/is a major reason was Toyota was never thrilled about introducing the plug-in version of its best selling hybrid to America; a good portion of the plug-in Prius sales are actually bastardizing the higher trim level/higher profit margin on standard hybrid Prius offerings.

Looking at it another way, the only mildly acceptable sales results for “conversions” are from the players where there is little to no premium over the standard trim level.

Lyle Dennis, Co-Founder Of InsideEVs, Takes A Volt Mule Out For A Spin In 2009...How Would History, And Sales, Have Differed If It Remained Just a Chevrolet Cruze Plug-In?

Lyle Dennis, Co-Founder Of InsideEVs, Takes A Volt Mule Out For A Spin In 2009…Essentially It Was A Cruze Plug-In At The Time

If General Motors decided to not not reshape/rebadge the Chevrolet Cruze and turn it into a Volt, but rather simply introduced a Cruze plug-in to the market, it would not have enjoyed the same stature or sales that is has today.

A Cruze plug-in, like previous hybrid conversions from GM that have failed to gain traction, as customers would likely find the cost proposition of the vehicle simply too high against its gas trim level.  Buyers surely would have difficulty paying an extra $20,000 for a Cruze that had 38 miles of electric range.  The payback, at least in terms of dollars and cents would never come.

In the above scenario, a lot fewer electric car buyers are going to plunk down $39,135 and be seen in what appears, at a casual glance, to be a $17,130 Cruze, as opposed what you see today packaged as a Chevrolet Volt.   Likewise, few buyers with the means of purchasing a $27,495 electric car, are likely going to want to tie their wagon to what also appears to be a $12,995 car in the Spark EV.  Dollars spent elsewhere, can get them a unique, purpose built electric vehicle.

Although The LEAF And The Spark EV Are Seperately By Less Than Two Thousand Dollars, What You Get In Return Are Two Very Different Cars

Although The LEAF And The Spark EV Are Separated By Less Than Two Thousand Dollars, What You Get In Return Are Two Very Different Cars

Besides that, there is the car itself.

A model which first debuted in concept form in 2007, and went into production elsewhere in the world in 2009, only to bow very late into its model life in the US to fill a gap at the bottom of GM’s product lineup.  Truth be told, GM has never done the small car segment particularly well, and that is probably because they really don’t want to be in it…and the Spark continues that trend.  Which is why electrifying the Spark is a curious choice.

What GM wants to do with the Spark, is to up sell would-be customers into the US made, higher margin, Sonic and the Cruze. US sales of those three vehicles bears that out:

(April Sales: Spark – 3,121, Sonic – 8,151, Cruze – 22,032)

And you don’t have to take my word that the Spark is not that great a platform to electrify.  Check out JD Power’s recently released survey of 16,000 car owners in the UK.  Of the 116 qualifying cars rated for “owner satisfaction,”  the Spark finished at number 116Dead last.

For these reasons, and despite some impressive electric numbers on paper,  we figure the Spark EV will not be a commercial success.  We imagine that most sales, past the EV’s initial release, will come like the Prius plug-in, via conquest sales at the dealership level, and primarily from those that either can’t get into a Chevy Volt, or who see a value proposition from the $199/month lease over that of a regular Spark.  Very few are likely to be an outright purchase.

Conclusion

While GM is to be commended on the Chevrolet Volt; a car that was well conceived, and well executed, the Spark EV is not an adequate follow-up for such a masterpiece…and we feel that many electric vehicle purchasers will simply look to “find new roads” in something other than a Spark EV.

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39 responses to "Beyond The Numbers: The Spark EV Is Priced Well On Paper At $27,495, But Will It Sell?"

  1. DaveinOlyWA says:

    I also agree that the Spark is a typical compliance car that will find a VERY limited market.

    **it is using a new fast charge protocol, a protocol that has yet to turn on its first station right when Chademo is possibly poised to take off; strike one

    **its smaller than the car that will take its business, the LEAF, but only slightly cheaper; strike two

    **it has very limited distribution which means customers get the impression (a correct one imho) that the manufacturer is not fully invested in the car; foul ball (after all, it is the status quo for many…)

    ** its a gas conversion to electric which allows a direct comparison of the “EV penalty” along with (as you mentioned) converting one of the least desired cars on the planet. They could have gotten a MUCH bigger market by making a 100% EV Volt for slightly less than the current Volt; strike three

    1. Aaron says:

      A 100% EV Volt for less than the current Volt? Please explain your math. Unless you can accept an EV Volt with 30 miles range (e.g., a current Volt less the gasoline engine), the math doesn’t work out.

      1. Nelson says:

        Volt
        - gasoline engine
        - generator
        - gas tank
        - muffler and pipes
        - planetary gear set
        - software to integrate ICE operation
        What would just the above weight reduction do the current range of the Volt using the existing battery? 5%, 10% increase in range maybe more???

        NPNS!
        Volt#671

        1. Aaron says:

          That seems quite reasonable. Now we have a Volt with ~35 miles range. How much more would a decently-sized battery add to the price? Probably more than the cost of the ICE and the rest of the stuff you listed.

          If we assume around $5K for all of that, $5K of battery is not much. 5kWh or so? Range is now ~55 miles for about the same price.

          We also have to consider weight. The stock Volt weighs more than a LEAF. How much of that is chassis? Is the Cruze/Volt platform light or heavy? Strangely, the Spark platform is starting to make sense. Or cents.

  2. IDK says:

    People are waiting for a consumer EV that gets at least 200 miles of real world driving on a charge. So…I wait.

  3. Warren says:

    So, if you are not a hedge fund manager and you need an EV that can go further than 73-75 miles, your other choices are the Fit EV, and the Fiat 500e. And if you live outside a CARB state your choice is to build a conversion.

    1. evnow says:

      You have either forgotten about Leaf & FFE or …. let me guess, you don’t understand why EPA rated Leaf at 75 miles.

      1. Warren says:

        I have two friends with Leafs. I was along for the ride with one of them today. We went 12 miles round trip to Wal-Mart. Fine car, but as I said, it doesn’t have enough range for my use.

        I have not seen, and don’t believe any of the Ford dealers here carry the Focus EV, but 1-2 miles more range won’t do. The Fiat, at an extra 12 miles, is starting to get into useful territory.

        For now, I am quite happy with the 100 mile range of my e-assist bike.

        1. Aaron says:

          You live 40+ miles from anything? EVs likely won’t be for you for quite some time. For us city dwellers, they’re perfect.

        2. evnow says:

          How does Spark EV change any of that ? Remember Leaf has an EPA rating of 84 miles on 100% charge.

      2. scottf200 says:

        All other EVs have TMS liquid cooling to maintain the temp of the battery. Charging the LEAF to 100% to get more range certainly is not good for the convection cooled battery.

        1. evnow says:

          If you are leasing or live in places that aren’t hot, who cares ?

  4. Ambulator says:

    I mostly agree. The one point where the Spark has an advantage is in the battery cooling. So, if you live in an area with a climate like Palm Springs and want a local EV the Spark is a good choice. Not many sales there, though.

    1. Dave R says:

      Great point – the Spark with it’s water cooled batteries should almost certainly fare better than the LEAF in hot climates. Not to mention that they are using A123 batteries which are definitely durable – some of the most durable lithium batteries on the market.

      There’s another reason people may opt for the Spark – performance. It is by far the quickest EV in the < $40k price range. The only EV faster is the Model S at more than twice the price.

      Makes me think – what if GM had turned the Volt into an EV instead of the Spark? The Volt certainly has room for 24+ kWh of batteries once you take out the engine. Then you still end up with a unique vehicle for your plugins and a much more practical vehicle. Sure, the price would be a bit higher, but you'd also have a much more competitive vehicle.

      1. scottf200 says:

        GMs media page document the 0-60 at 7.6 seconds. Article above is still just quoting old information of “under 8 seconds”
        http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/chevrolet/vehicles/spark-ev/2014.html

  5. David Murray says:

    I agree with the article completely. I’ve been saying the same thing for a while. Maybe I’m weird but image does mean something to me. When I drive our Leaf or Volt around people recognize that as an EV. The Spark EV will look just like ever other $12,000 gasoline powered spark on the road. No thanks.

    1. Aaron says:

      …and that’s the exact reason the Prius went on to its success. Honda’s hybrids didn’t look any different than their gas-powered versions. The Prius, with its unique body style, let people advertise how “green” they are. Appealing to the psyche of humans works.

  6. evnow says:

    I guess a different way of looking at it.

    Non-serious plugins don’t sell well / compliance plugins don’t sell well.

    But, OEMs probably don’t care. They either want to sell a few to make CARB numbers or “prove” that EVs don’t sell.

    One point on the price of Spark. Even though it is a little less than Leaf S – because of competition among dealers, I bet you can get Leaf S for less than Spark EV (unless because of poor sales, GM starts discounting Spark).

    1. evnow says:

      BTW, I’ve to also make a curious note here. Most GM fans who say they expect Spark to sell well never say they personally plan to buy one !

  7. Future Leaf Driver says:

    Instead of releasing an EV that a lot of people want such as a Volt MPV5, GM releases something that costs a few bucks cheaper and with less space than the competition. Wow, what a BOLD move!

    Talk about going backwards or following the pack rather than leading!

    Hopefully 2016 and Volt 2.0 will correct this mistake!

    1. scottf200 says:

      Lot of new tech in this car that they can use in future cars as well. New motor is pretty impressive as one example. Look forward not backward.
      http://insideevs.com/gm-general-says-spark-evs-400lb-ft-of-torque-no-misprint/

    2. taser54 says:

      Ehh, GM is doing the right thing by going small with an EV. They are essentially waiting for the battery packs to drop in price and increase in performance. The Spark EV allows them to produce a low price point EV that GM can make a small profit on while developing its EV and EREV platforms.

      The MPV5 that you cited can easily be built now but won’t be able to meet the price point to sell enough of them or to make a profit; therefore, the EREV crossover is going to follow the new platform on which the Volt 2.0 is built. GM is setting up a modular system for EREVs with lighter platforms, more efficient powertrains, and less expensive battery packs.
      The bottom line, you can’t go all Veruca Salt about GM’s future product line. GM is systematically setting the table to dominate.

      1. KeiJidosha says:

        “…you can’t go all Veruca Salt about GM’s future product line…”
        +1

        I think the Spark EV’s fate lies in the driving experience. Like the 500e, there are nits to pick, and all B-segments face an up-hill challenge with the US market. But, buyers will overlook the shortcomings if it’s fun to drive. They will need to want to get to yes.

  8. Suprise Cat says:

    Will the Spark be sold international?

    1. Jay Cole says:

      Yes, it is coming to Europe (selected countries) in Q1 of 2014

  9. bloggin says:

    The Spark should actually sell very well against the Leaf and Focus EV. Tesla Model S will still lead all EVs for some time to come.

    Launching to only CA and Oregon is part of the initial launch for most ALL EVs so far. Which is why the Leaf launched in a limited market in Japan, before slowly launching in limited markets here in the states.

    A limited launch enables final real world product validation by real consumers, and allows for dealership ramp up for sales and service. This also allows the automaker to catch any issues with the new product before launching to a wider audience.

    Then again, what we all know about the current Leaf sale increase….it’s ALL about the price.

    So with the Spark coming in over a thousand below the Leaf, offering longer EV range and a fresh youthful design, price conscious consumers will take notice. And if Chevy lowers the price of the Volt for 2014 as expected, that means more traffic in Chevy dealerships, with Chevy having two options for consumers.

    Also, whether it’s built on an existing platform, or a Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid or EV drivetrain based on a ICE vehicle, most consumers do not care. They want what they like and they buy what they want. Which is why the Fusion Hybrid, MKZ Hybrid, and the $40k+ Fusion Energi are doing so well.

    Another big selling point for the Spark EV is that it’s from an American manufacturer, and I am sure Chevy will drive that point home in their marketing of the Spark. Nissan may have started to put the Leaf together in the states, but it’s still a Japanese product.

    But the key is marketing. The Leaf sells because they dropped the price and market it heavily.

    If Chevy does not market the Spark EV, consumers will not know it existed. Just like Ford’s choice not to market the Focus EV, but market the Energi models, selling over 5 times the number of C-MAX/Fusion Energi models than the EV.

    Sales numbers in July will be a good indication of were the Spark EV is going. Even if it’s only in two states. CA is where the bulk of the sales will come from. But it has hit two major things going for it, lower price, more range and youthful/fresh design.

    1. evnow says:

      There are far too many mistakes and contradictions in your essay for me to correct.

      Leaf launched in Japan & US together. Leaf will outsell Model S in the US & worldwide. etc.

      One thing I agree about. The key is marketing – and as we have seen, low volume compliance cars don’t get a big marketing budget.

  10. Taser54 says:

    One thing that I’ve noticed is the near visceral reaction by Leaf proponents to the Spark. It’s sad, really. Here, GM appears to offer a better entry into the EV market(in terms of price, range, and battery pack design). It makes for compelling comparisons to the Leaf, but- in no reasonable way -can the Leaf proponents conclude that it will fail simply by being based on an existing car, especially when the OTD price is so close to the ICE car after incentives.

    Leaf proponents have trumpeted price, price, price, in the months since Nissan announced the price reduction for the 2013. Now, apparently a strong competitor has entered the area and beats Nissan’s price by $2k. So now they transition into speculation that an ICE = an EV when it comes to customer satisfaction (citing a U.K. survey too)?

    If people have learned ANYTHING about how GM approaches the quality of their EVs (albeit EREV) it need only look at how Volt owners perceive their vehicles. Number 1 (twice). Here, the Spark EV may look similar to the ICE on the outside but the performance of the powertrain is far and above better.

    This column takes a tenuous position at the wrong time- for an EV site. I have to give it a thumbs down (from a Toyota owner BTW).

    1. Acevolt says:

      The Leaf is just an ugly Versa that is heavily marketed with a low lease and purchase price. I think the battery pack is its weak link. Stacking air cooled batteries so the top ones get heated by the bottom ones is a bad idea and I would never buy a Leaf. The Spark includes a larger touchscreen (which i think comes with Nav) and I think the interior looks way better than the Leaf.
      I do agree that it probably wont sell well just because of marketing.
      i know this is off topic, but if you compare this to a Fiat500e and the Smart EV, I think this is the better choice. Of course the Fiat lease includes more miles and a rental a month.
      There are only two dedicated EV platforms, the Tesla and the BMW i.
      You could say the Coda and Fiskar where unique plug ins and look how they sold.

      1. scottf200 says:

        Acevolt, check out this page for the BringGo app. $60 smart phone app that uses the 7″ display in the spark. Lot of new text in the Spark EV.
        See the section: Chevrolet MyLink connectivity gets personal
        http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/chevrolet/vehicles/spark-ev/2014.html

      2. Jaymac says:

        Spark EV to Leaf is the wrong comparison. The important comparison is to the Fiat 500e.

    2. scottf200 says:

      Yes, the LEAF proponents could not snoopy dance enough when the LEAF-S came out with such a good price. Now instead of being congratulatory for pushing the EV market as a whole they are only satisfied if the LEAF is the only lower cost EV. Spark seems like it would fit just as nicely for a commuter car as those using the LEAF for that purpose.

      1. evnow says:

        Scott, you know well enough to write such tripe.

        Our criticism is that Spark is a compliance car with very limited manufacturer support. I’d like to be proven wrong.

        1. taser54 says:

          Well a “compliance” car would only be sold in Cali, right?

          Here, GM has already announced that it will be also sold in Oregon and internationally in Korea, Canada, and Europe.

          So at the outset, your premise has been proven incorrect.

        2. VFanRJ says:

          A compliance car would not have a TMS and an option for a DC fast charger. As a Volt owner I am convinced GM is serious about EVs. The Volt is an amazing piece of engineering that provides an exceptional ride. Even though the Volt is built on the Cruze platform is has 2k extra welds that make the body much more rigid and significantly quieter; the driving experience between the two cars are quite different.

          The Spark EV has a very different suspension than the ICE Spark, and I suspect the body will contain many modifications as well. I believe it’s a good bet that the ride quality of the Spark EV will be head and shoulders above the ICE version.

          It’s not possible to judge the Spark EV without driving it.

  11. Cavaron says:

    Some observations from europe: the Smart EV is also a conversion of an ICE-car and the 2013 production capacity of 6000 cars is already sold out.
    Also the Fiat 500e conversion doesn’t seem to lack demand. I guess it’s more about how the conversion is done, than if it’s a conversion or not. And only that’s the question here; will it be a well done conversion.

  12. Danpatgal says:

    I suppose generating some buzz by claiming the Spark will die an unpleasant death is excusable, if a bit premature since I don’t think anyone has even driven the vehicle. I’d say that if it is as well done as the Volt (with class appropriate appointments) it will sell better than the other compliance vehicles and probably better than the Smart ED or iMiev. Also, it’s not clear that the Spark is an ICE conversion vehicle (I don’t see a big trunk hump in the pictures, for example); perhaps they wanted to keep the EV-esque name instead of trying to create another one. If it ever emerges from compliance car, I’d take a serious look at buying one …

  13. Schmeltz says:

    The price of the Spark EV is in the right neighborhood…But the car itself is wrong IMHO. I think Jay is right, they should have made a proper longer range EV out of a unique vehicle platform. A better choice would be an All-Electric Buick Electra or Cadillac EVS as examples. Either one would be unique to their brands and be able to command a higher price point.

  14. Fred Bellows says:

    “Spark” is quite a good name for an EV (why they ever used it for an ICE car, instead of saving it for an EV is just more “GM screwup”, in my opinion). The cars’ numbers are there. It will sell. There are still millions of Chevy fans in the world, especially here in the USA, that just want to buy a Chevy. The spark will be compared to imiev, not Leaf, due to it’s size. The idea that people want others to know how much they spent on a car is moot at these lower price point EV’s that are coming out. The little name on the back is enough. People want (and will want way more, soon) pure electric cars that don’t have gas engines in them. Not just to make a statement, but to not have to repair, change oil, emission test, etc., etc. The interesting part of the article to me, and all of the comments below, is that no one is mentioning that this is a really big important move on GM’s part,… – to finally come out with an electric car! Which I take as an (over do) apology for the shameless Impact/EV1 debacle of a program which set the electric car industry back at least 10 years. Which, I believe it was meant to do. (and I will never forgive them for that). But, no matter, because now we have “Baseball, Hotdogs, Applepie, and Nissan!