• Chevy Spark EV
  • Chevy Spark EV

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  • Chevy Spark EV dash

  • Chevy Spark EV
  • Chevy Spark EV

  • Chevy Spark EV dash
  • Chevy Spark EV dash

  • Chevy Spark EV rear seat
  • Chevy Spark EV rear seat

  • Chevy Spark EV plug
  • Chevy Spark EV plug

  • Chevy Spark EV
  • Chevy Spark EV

  • Chevy Spark EV
  • Chevy Spark EV info screen

  • Chevy Spark EV info screen
  • Chevy Spark EV info screen

  • Chevy Spark EV info screen
  • Chevy Spark EV info screen

  • Chevy Spark EV info screen
  • Chevy Spark EV info screen

  • Chevy Spark EV motor
  • Chevy Spark EV motor

  • Chevy Spark EV
  • Chevy Spark EV

Why This Little Car Previews Big Things For GM

General Motors representatives handed out a lot of press releases in Sausalito, CA this week as part of GM's Electrification Experience. There was one about the company's plans to sell 500,000 vehicles with "electrification" by 2017. There was one about GM's work with ABB on reusing advanced vehicle batteries in grid storage applications (see also this). There was one about the motor in the Chevrolet Spark EV. And another about the battery. We'll talk about some of this information, but you can read them at the end of this post. What was much more interesting were two things that can't fit onto pieces of paper*: the GM's new fullthroated embrace of vehicles with plugs (whither hydrogen, whither biofuels?) and some lightly camo'ed electric Spark prototypes with the keys in them.

The message of the Electrification Experience was very obviously how GM's success with the Chevrolet Volt is guiding the company's fuel economy efforts. One can quibble about missed sales targets or too-high prices, but the fact remains that the Volt is the best-selling plug-in vehicle in the U.S. right now, and it has given GM a strong position from which to move forward in the fast-changing automotive landscape. As they wrap up their second year of sales, plug-in vehicles are far ahead of where regular hybrids were after their second year a decade ago. And, as Mark Duvall of the Electric Power Research Institute pointed out, 12 percent of all plug-in vehicles in the US were sold in October. The Volt stood at the top of that list.

The phrase "learnings from the Volt were 'sprinkled liberally'" was repeated a lot, referring to how the lessons from that project are being used withing GM. As we said earlier, Mary Barra, GM's senior vice president of global product development, said during the event that GM's future "focus" will be on plug-in technology, and at the EE, GM certainly presented its future as something other than "more car than electric." It's always been clear that this anti-EV message, the way GM first advertised the Volt, would prove inconvenient at some point. The surprise is how soon that day has come for GM.

GM's Electrification Efforts

The all-electric Spark EV is due in the summer of 2013, but in San Francisco, GM presented a wideranging look at how electrification efforts are already being integrated into the company's plans. For example, the way GM's new OnStar apps that let you interact with your plug-in vehicle (available now for the Volt, available later for the Spark), the Pecan Street project (see here and here) where the utility can track around 1,500 data points every 15 minutes from a house involved in the smart grid/plug-in car program or the work GM is doing with ABB to use old Volt batteries to assist the electric grid (where the batteries live for 10 years in a car and then 10 more years connected to the grid). The suite of electric vehicle apps is growing, too, with a Park-Tap-Charge prototype app that uses near-field-communication to send a signal from your smartphone to a Wattstation charging station to pay for and manage charging. The gamification of our world is coming online, too, with a driver challenge app that pits you and your eco driving skills against other Volt drivers, earning achievements for your green performance.

The point of all this? GM is serious about plug-in cars, making and selling more of them. The problem? Well...

"Driving" the Spark EV Prototype

The main problem with our time in the electric Spark prototype was that the loop we could drive on was around a half-mile long. Even though we could go around multiple times, there's only so much you can learn about a car in ten minutes. But we paid close attention, packing in as much as we could. For example:
  • When you push the start button, the Spark performs 1,300 diagnostic checks in about two seconds.
  • Underway, like most modern EVs, the Spark is smooth and quiet. Also, that battery pack gives it a solid feel around corners.
  • There's no CD player.
  • The Spark has Bluetooth apps (Pandora, Sticher, TuneIn) that talk to the same apps on your smartphone, displaying the info on the car's screen.
  • There is creep.
  • With a 0-60 time of around eight seconds, the Spark has got more-than-acceptable oomph when you get going. 45 miles per hour (as fast as we could get going) feels quite fast since you get there so quickly.
From the driver's seat, the Spark EV made us think of a mini Volt, for example with the same green battery stack graphic on the dash. The OnStar apps that talk to a Volt all work (or, better said, will work) with the Spark EV. Since there is no gas generator back-up in the Spark, there are some differences, too, including a new EV range display. Oh, and, thankfully, the center stack buttons are not touch sensitive.

chevy spark ev dash chevy spark priority charging

On the left side of the dash screen, there are three numbers that show how much range you have left: a white number in a blue ball and then two numbers in smaller font, one above and one below. These are all calculated on the fly: the smaller numbers are the maximum and minimum range the car thinks you have left, based on the last five minutes of driving. The bigger, central number is how many miles you most likely have left, based on the last 30-50 miles of driving. So, the easist number to see is how far you can probably go, but the system also constantly updates you with information about how changing your driving style will affect your range.

The Spark is the first EV with "priority charging."

The Spark is also the first EV with "priority charging." I've asked automaker representatives for years if their all-electric vehicles had the ability to, when programmed to delay charging until nighttime when rates are lower, fill up the battery pack to a preset level (say, at least the number of miles to the nearest hospital, just in case). The answer has always been, "No." GM's response was "stay tuned," which implies that more information will be coming when the car debuts in LA. But, a bit of fiddling with the infotainment screen in the prototypes revealed the priority charging option, which performs exactly this function if you turn it on. The only difference is that GM has decided that the preset level is a battery pack that is 40 percent full. You don't get to choose. Still, this is a bit of customer convenience that we think should be widespread.

chevy spark ev dashboard chevy spark sae combo charger

You can choose a few different ways to drive the Spark. The normal "D" mode allows for light regen, but we liked "L" which tightens that up and lets you drive (mostly) with one foot. There's also a sport mode, but all this does is adjust the throttle progression. There is no change to suspension, peak power or peak torque, just how the car reacts to pedal presses.

Stepping out to look at the car, we see an upper "grill" that is totally closed, and the only air that enters the engine compartment (aside from small leaks) comes through the lower grill (the black part in the picture below), which has an active shutter so it can be closed off to send oncoming air up and over the car when it's most efficient to do so. The Spark's underside is also covered by full underbody panels.

The front ends of the electric Sparks we got to drive still had camo on them because the official reveal isn't happening until the Los Angeles Auto Show at the end of the moth, but you can see it right now below (larger version here).

chevy spark electric front fascia

The "mini-Volt" story can also be seen in the parts that are shared between the two cars: the oil pump that cools the motor. The motor control software. The power inverter module (with one stage removed since the Spark EV has one motor and the Volt has two). The high voltage cabin heater. The 3.3-kW onboard charger.

Let's Talk Battery

GM says it will launch the car "on schedule" and "has not been impacted by A123's bankruptcy."

There are differences, too, perhaps most importantly in the battery. It's bigger than the Volt's (GM isn't saying exactly how big, just that it's "around" 20 kWh compared to 16.5 kWh in the current-gen Volt). The shapes are different, too. Rectangular in the Spark, T-shaped in the Volt. Both are lithium-ion but the Spark uses lithium-iron phosphate, as opposed to the lithium manganese spinel cells from LG Chem in the Volt. The Spark batteries come from A123 Systems, but Jon Lauckner, GM's chief technology officer, said there is no worry inside GM that A123 will not be able to provide the cells, despite that company's bankruptcy. The production process will see A123 making the cells and assembling the packs in Livonia, MI, then shipping the packs to Korea where the car is put together and then shipping it out for sale. GM says it will launch the car "on schedule" and "has not been impacted by those activities," said Bill Wallace, GM's director of global battery systems.

GM says there are no limitations on how often you can DC fast charge. None.

The Spark will likely be the first vehicle to have the SAE Combo Charger plug installed (it'll be an option. Price not disclosed). And this brings us to the most interesting "news" about the how Spark's battery performs – and something that might be contributing to GM's big new confidence in electric vehicles – which is that GM says there are no limitations on how often you can DC fast charge (i.e., get an 80-percent charge in 20 minutes). None. A presentation slide said, "A123's chemistry tolerates fast charging with modest effects on battery life." This is due, in part, to the low electrical resistance of the A123 cells, which generate less heat and provide longer life. Liquid cooling also helps keeps the battery happy. Put another way, Chris Twarog, a GM energy and battery integration engineer, called the battery chemistry "a beast."

If you're not fast charging, then it takes a little less than seven hours using a Level 2 charger and don't ask about using a standard outlet (probably 20+ hours). GM isn't announcing the range just yet, so it's unclear how often you'll need to charge, but, based on in-car display screens and the 20-kWh pack, we suspect the number will be around 70 miles. Or higher. Or lower. Whatever. This is a commuter EV, and we'll know the details soon enough.

Whatever the range ends up being, GM is preparing something called "waypoint routing" to get your Spark EV wherever it needs to go. Part of the RemoteLink app, the new Spark EV Waypoint tab allows you to input your destination and the app figures out a.) if you can make it with the energy in your pack and b.) if you can't, where to charge up along the way. It will also let you know if there is no waypoint route is available and the destination is outside of your range. The range estimates are based on your personal driving history as well as GM's data; the charging stations come from NREL. The app doesn't take anything at the final destination – how much range you'll have left, charging station availability, etc. – into account.

Aside from the powertrain, there are some differences between the gas- and electric-powered Sparks. Because of the battery, the weight balance is different (and unspecified) in the two cars. Because of the regenerative braking power, the front wheels have disc brakes and the rears have drum brakes on the ICE, whereas all four wheels have disc brakes on the EV. The EV is also heavier, by about 600 pounds, thanks to the 560-pound battery. It's easy to spot the EV badging and charge port, but it's almost impossible to tell that the EV has a slightly larger bump running on the back above the rear license plate. It's there, though.

"It's kind of impossible to keep the wheels straight with all that launch character."

Speaking of power, the Spark EV gets to peak power at 40 mph, which, combined with the car's 0-60 time of around eight seconds, means the Spark EV feels way quicker than other cars in its segment. The problem is that GM hasn't quite tamed this electric beast. With a 134-horsepower motor that puts out 400 pound-feet of torque and A123's high-power battery, the Spark EV does suffer from some torque steer. We never got to go very fast – the roughly half-mile loop route only had one straighaway where we could get up to around 45 mph – but on one acceleration, the handling felt wobbly, like we were hit by a stiff side wind. The second time – on the same stretch of road, using the same pedal application – everything felt straight and solid. Other journalists felt the same wobble, though, and Chris Kinser, electric vehicle controls manager, told AutoblogGreen that this is something the engineers noticed, too. The problem is that it's the result of using an ICE vehicle platform. They've tried to minimize it, and are still tweaking things, but it's going to be present in the finished vehicle. He said the chief pounded his fist a few times, asking them to get it right, but they just can't totally get rid of it:

It's real. We don't consider it a problem. Some people call it torque steer. The geometry of the suspension makes it so with all that torque, it's kind of impossible to keep the wheels straight with all that launch character. This car will probably maintain that character as we launch. There are a couple things we can try, but there's not a whole lot left we can do. In trying to share this platform with the internal combustion program to keep the car's costs down, we can't change that front suspension geometry. We would have liked to. It would have helped with little things like that. But it's just fundamental to how that's designed. We've done some things with the toe, and how we can align the vehicle to minimize it. We might have a little more we can do, because the tires aren't final, but it's going to have a little bit of that character.

The fact remains that these are still prototype vehicles, and GM has roughly six months to get them ready for the public. Also, there are a lot of important facts – how much the Spark will cost, where it will be sold, etc. – that GM is still keeping close to the vest, so it's hard to know how this vehicle will be received. Given the huge emphasis GM is now putting on electric vehicles, though, we imagine it will be quite the story if the Spark doesn't make a big splash.

*Yes, even though GM called the event the Electrification Experience, the idea of only-digital releases was eschewed. Go figure.

Show full PR text
GM, ABB Demonstrate Chevrolet Volt Battery Reuse Unit
World's first use of electric vehicle batteries for energy storage nears grid testing

SAN FRANCISCO – General Motors and ABB today showed the next stage in battery reuse, the repackaging of five used Chevrolet Volt batteries into a modular unit capable of providing two hours of electricity needed by three to five average American homes.

The uninterruptable power supply and grid power balancing system was demonstrated during GM's Electrification Experience. The prototype unit provided 25 kW of power and 50 kWh of energy to power all the support lighting and audiovisual equipment in an "off-grid" structure used for the event.

"GM's battery development extends throughout the entire life of the battery, including secondary use," said Pablo Valencia, GM senior manager of battery lifecycle management. "In many cases, when an EV battery has reached the end of its life in an automotive application, only 30 percent or less of its life has been used. This leaves a tremendous amount of life that can be applied to other applications like powering a structure before the battery is recycled."

GM and ABB last year demonstrated how a Chevrolet Volt battery pack could be used to collect energy and feed it back to the grid and deliver supplemental power to homes or businesses.

During today's demonstration, the energy storage system was run in a "remote power back-up" mode where 100 percent of the power for the facility came from Volt batteries through ABB's Energy Storage Inverter system. A similar application could one day be used to power a group of homes or small commercial buildings during a power outage, allow for storage of power during inexpensive periods for use during expensive peak demand, or help make up for gaps in solar, wind or other renewable power generation.

These functions, along with frequency regulation on electric distribution systems, could someday be used by utilities to reduce cost to customers and improve the quality of power delivery. These applications are referred to as community energy storage to distinguish them from substation-size energy storage projects.

"We showed today how fast this research concept is turning into reality," said Allen Burchett, ABB's senior vice president for Business Development in North America. "The ABB-GM Volt battery system is the world's first use of car batteries as possible back-up power for homes and other commercial uses. We will be installing it on the grid soon to complete the technical evaluation, and this will tell us all what smart grid applications are possible, like back-up power, reducing energy cost, strengthening utilities' distribution systems and storing surplus renewable energy."

ABB's research center in Raleigh, N.C., conducted the research and development, and ABB's Medium Voltage business unit in Lake Mary, Fla., is managing the proof-of-concept testing, market research and product development. As the world's largest EV fast-charging company and leader in smart grid and energy storage, ABB works with other auto companies, battery manufacturers and utilities to help make electric power and industrial operations more productive and efficient.

GM is focused on assuring battery systems used in future Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles provide environmental and societal benefits beyond their use in the vehicle. Long before a battery is recycled, secondary use provides the opportunity to fully utilize the battery resource.

GM is dedicated to waste reduction throughout its operations, and its worldwide manufacturing facilities combined recycle 90 percent of the waste they generate. Ensuring that batteries are part of reducing the environmental impact of its vehicles and operations is part of the company's roadmap to sustainability.

About General Motors

General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and its partners produce vehicles in 30 countries, and the company has leadership positions in the world's largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM's brands include Chevrolet and Cadillac, as well as Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Isuzu, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at http://www.gm.com.

About ABB

ABB (www.abb.com) is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve their performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs about 145,000 people.

# # #

A Battery of Apps: OnStar Debuts Future EV Solutions
New connected apps tackle range anxiety and public charging

SAN FRANCISCO – At the GM Electrification Experience, OnStar is showing two new apps to address the possible range anxiety of electric vehicles and the cost of public charging.

Since the Chevrolet Volt extended range electric vehicle launched in late 2010, drivers have been able to manage vehicle charging, including the option to charge during off-peak hours through the OnStar RemoteLink Mobile App. As GM expands its electric vehicle line-up next year with the 2014 Chevy Spark EV, more drivers will be able to manage and control electric-only functions from their phone.

Because the Spark EV operates only on electricity, drivers will need to know if they can reach their destination on a single charge. The Spark EV Waypoint tab, which will be integrated into the RemoteLink app, can quickly determine that answer and plot a waypoint route with recommended charging stations if the route is beyond a single charge's range.

"The Spark EV Waypoint tab aims to instill confidence in drivers who are not sure if they'll be able to reach their destination on a single charge," said Paul Pebbles, global manager, OnStar Electric Vehicle and Smart Grid Services. "It's also for drivers who know they'll be traveling beyond a single charge range."

Once the destination is selected, based on the distance and battery life, the app will use the distance and remaining battery life to tell the driver one of four things:

Destination is within the range of a single charge
Destination is within a single charge range, but the vehicle needs to be charged more before the driver begins traveling
Destination is further than a single charge range and requires a waypoint route
No waypoint route is available and destination is beyond vehicle range. Due to a lack of charging stations a waypoint route may not always be possible.

The app tells a driver how long a drive will be and how long it will take to charge the Spark at each stop, combining the two for total trip duration. In addition to mobile, the waypoint routing function will be available on GM Owner Center allowing directions to be sent online to a vehicle. Destinations will be stored in OnStar's Virtual Advisor service.

OnStar plans to make the Waypoint App available for the launch of the 2014 Spark EV.

Park-Tap-Charge Prototype App

With more electric vehicles on the market, the demand for public charging will grow as will the need to know how much charging away from home will cost. Where cost is tied to public charging, a new prototype app will allow EV owners to simply tap their smartphone against a charging station, which will automatically show payment options that, once accepted, will initiate the flow of electricity. This prototype app is currently named Park-Tap-Charge.

"It's all about transacting through the app to create a very connected vehicle experience," said Pebbles. "This type of functionality contributes to an end-to-end solution for owners of the infrastructure and drivers."

Prior to accepting payment, the app will show the hourly rate of charging, the estimated time for a full charge and the estimated cost of a full charge.

The app leverages Near Field Communication technology, a way of contactless payment being implemented in smartphones today. Using a signal sent from an NFC-enabled phone to a charge station with an embedded NFC tag, drivers can automatically initiate payment from a previously connected account by tapping their smartphone to the station.

The current version of the application is a concept and provides the base for driving a scalable and viable solution as more EVs hit the road.

OnStar's Smart Grid research is made possible by the U.S. Department of Energy.

OnStar, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors, is the global leading provider of connected safety, security and mobility solutions and advanced information technology. With more than 6 million subscribers in the U.S, Canada and China, OnStar is currently available on more than 40 MY 2013 GM models, as well as available for installation on most other vehicles already on the road with OnStar FMV. More information about OnStar can be found at www.onstar.com.

# # #

GM Showcases Chevrolet Spark EV Electric Motor
First automaker to domestically produce electric motors

SAN FRANCISCO – From home appliances to children's toys, electric motors are all around us and have nearly a century of automotive use dating to Charles Kettering's invention of the electric starter first used in 1912. With the emergence of electric vehicles, electric motors also will play a bigger part in future vehicles, such as the 2013 Chevrolet Spark EV.

"We've spent the past few years highlighting our in-house battery capability, which will play a significant role as one of our core competencies going forward," said Larry Nitz, GM executive director of Vehicle Electrification Engineering. "Electric motor development and manufacturing is another area of expertise we need as we grow our portfolio of electric vehicles to address the needs of our global customers."

Chevrolet has been refining its expertise in electric motors at a pilot facility in Wixom, a Detroit suburb, in advance of beginning the domestic production of electric motors at GM's plant in White Marsh, Md., near Baltimore in early 2013. Equipment and processes to be used at White Marsh are being validated and tested in Wixom.

Conventionally powered vehicles on the road today have a variety of electric motors to power seats, windows, windshield washers and other functions. Electric motors are used in hybrid and electric vehicles to move the drive wheels to propel the vehicle. Electricity is stored in a battery and feeds power to the electric motor to drive the wheels. The White Marsh facility will produce electric motors for the Spark and other future vehicles.

GM is focused on the development of permanent magnet and induction motors for a variety of applications. GM uses electric motors as part of the propulsion system in the Chevrolet Volt, Chevrolet Malibu Eco, Buick Lacrosse eAssist and Buick Regal eAssist.

Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world's largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature spirited performance, expressive design, and high quality. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.

# # #

Chevrolet Spark EV to Power Up Quickly
Battery system capable of multiple DC Fast Charges daily

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The second entry in Chevrolet's electric vehicle strategy, the Spark EV, will arrive in California dealer showrooms in summer 2013 with among the best EV range in its class. The Spark EV's more than 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack will continue Chevrolet's tradition of industry-leading warranty protection of eight years or 100,000 miles.

Spark EV will be the first vehicle on the market to use the recently approved SAE combo charger for DC Fast Charging. The capability, available shortly after market launch, will enable the Spark EV to recharge up to 80 percent of its capacity in approximately 20 minutes. The battery system is capable of handling multiple DC Fast Charges daily. Charging can also be completed in less than seven hours using a dedicated 240V charge. A 120V charge cord set is standard. Charging can be managed and monitored remotely using the Spark EV's smart phone application, provided by OnStar.

"The Spark EV battery has undergone more than 200,000 hours of testing in our global battery systems labs," said Larry Nitz, executive director of GM's global electrification engineering team. "This testing paved the way to allow our customers to do multiple DC Fast Charges daily, to help alleviate range anxiety and improve convenience."

The battery system, supplied by A123 Systems, has a volume of 133 liters, is comprised of 336 prismatic cells based on A123's Nanophosphate® lithium iron phosphate chemistry, configured into four modules, weighing a total of 560 lbs. Like the battery system used in the Chevrolet Volt, the Spark EV's battery uses an active liquid cooling and heating system, which ensures improved reliability over the life of the vehicle, while providing year-round performance in all climates.

"A123's Nanophosphate lithium ion battery technology delivers a unique combination of high power, increased usable energy, long life and excellent safety, which makes it ideally suited for pure electric vehicle applications like the Chevy Spark EV," said Jason Forcier, vice president of the Automotive Solutions Group at A123 Systems. " We believe our battery system will contribute substantially to a positive ownership and driving experience of the Spark EV."

The squared-shaped battery pack is located below the rear seats and directly over the rear axle, in a single, sealed enclosure. The enclosure is constructed from an advanced composite material that improves performance with reduced weight – this is the first production automotive application that uses this high strength material. The battery pack is positioned in the same space used for the fuel tank in internal combustion engine-powered Sparks resulting in minimal body modifications. Owners will not have to sacrifice when it comes to cabin comfort and cargo space.

Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world's largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature spirited performance, expressive design, and high quality. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.

Chevrolet Spark Information

Chevrolet Spark

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