By John Voelcker
Sometimes news comes out of adding up little pieces of information.
Doing that with a few items from the past week, we’re beginning to wonder if General
Motors might launch an all-electric car in the U.S. in the next couple of years.
Based on recent spy photos from renowned photographer Brenda Priddy, we think there’s a chance it could be an all-electric version of the upcoming 2013 Chevrolet Spark minicar.
Indian test fleet
In June, Chevy unveiled the Chevrolet Beat EV in India, an electric conversion of the Spark minicar (called the Beat in some markets).
A test fleet of these vehicles is meant to investigate the consumer acceptability of lower-cost, lower-performance electric cars in a country where few vehicles cover long distances, compared to the States with its network of high-speed highways.
The Beat EV as shown in India isn’t particularly high performance: Its liquid-cooled 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack powers only a 45-kilowatt (60-horsepower) electric motor that drives the front wheels.
Chevy says the little electric Beat has an electric range of roughly 80 miles.
Power grid a problem
But perhaps the Beat EV isn’t the right car for India. According to an IndianAutosBlog post, GM India says the Beat EV won’t become a commercial product because the Indian power grid doesn’t have the spare capacity to tolerate electric-car charging.
Author Kaustubh Shinde wrote: “GM believes that a product like the Beat EV doesn’t make sense for India because the existing power supply is itself inadequate to meet the domestic needs. It would be very difficult to get additional power for recharging the car battery.”
The unnamed GM India source, however, indicated that the “Beat EV will definitely be sold in the international markets” and hinted that it might be launched in the U.S.
Testing in Michigan
Lo and behold, last week a set of spy photos showed a Spark being tested in Michigan with square patches on both front fenders. One of them most likely hides a charging port.
The car in the photos had different front and rear wheels, indicating a powertrain swap, and sported a grille from the Daewoo Matiz, the name under which the Chevy Spark has been sold in Korea since late 2009.
We can argue both the pros and cons of a Spark EV in the U.S. market. On the Pro side, GM should have a battery electric car to complete its range (mild and full hybrids, Volt, battery electric).
Too small for ‘real Americans’?
But on the Con side, a Spark EV might run the risk of painting battery electric cars as too small for real use. The Spark is roughly the same size as the 2012 Mitsubishi ‘i’ electric car, which many feel is simply too small for volume sales in the U.S.
And with its compact 2011 Chevy Volt range-extended electric car, GM has worked hard to market the notion that plug-in cars are “normal” cars that you can use in every way you might use a gasoline car.
A compact battery electric—the electric Cruze being tested in Korea, say—would make that argument more convincingly than the Spark, which is not one but two cars sizes smaller than the Volt.
We rather suspect that if GM is planning to launch the Spark EV in the U.S., it may be in a low-volume test fleet—similar to the ones it’s already announced in India, China, Korea, and Germany—rather than as a full production vehicle for retail buyers.
GM response: No comment
On GM’s part, Kevin Kelly—manager of electric vehicle and hybrid communications—issued a pro forma non-statement: “I have seen those same reports and all I can tell you is that we cannot comment on future product programs.”
In an interview last week, Micky Bly, GM’s executive director of global electric systems, infotainment and electrification (phew), said: “We’re taking information from our electric-car test fleets to help us formulate product strategy.”
“We’ll make public statements in that regard by the end of the year,” Bly continued.
“We’ve learned enough to know what we need to do.”
What do you think? Should a Chevrolet Spark EV become GM’s first battery electric vehicle for the U.S. market? Or should it be a different vehicle altogether?
Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.
This story, originally written by John Voelcker, first appeared in Green Car Reports, an editorial partner of Talking Points Memo.