Chevy Spark: A mighty tiny car

May 08, 2012 By Jim Motavalli
Chevy Spark

Growth has long been Detroit's mantra, but now the industry is surviving by thinking small. I'm writing this from Germany, where gasoline costs $7 or $8 a gallon (you thought $4 was high!) and a Jetta is a big car. More typical of what's going on in Berlin these days is the launch of a fleet of 1,000 Car2Go Smart share cars - the largest concentration in the world.

America is finally getting hip to , and the 2013 Chevrolet Spark, set to go on sale in the U.S. around now, is set to take advantage of that. I saw one of these minis on display at my local Earth Day celebration and admired how well it stacks up against equally diminutive competition.

To say that it looks and feels Korean is quite a compliment, considering how the restyled Kia Optima and Hyundai Elantra are. The Spark was designed at GM's studio in Seoul. Expect the less-than-2,000-pound to start at less than $13,000 and get about 45 mpg on the highway.

Consider these size facts:

- The Spark, the smallest Chevrolet ever to be sold in North America, is half the size of typical full-size cars from 1973 (think Chevrolet Impala, Ford LTD, Cadillac DeVille), the year American car size hit a peak from which it has retreated only gradually.

- Like the Honda Fit, the Spark is tall - six inches taller than that 1973 sedan. You could wear a top hat at the wheel. Adding vertical space is a great idea, because it makes small cars much better load haulers than they have any right to be.

- The Spark has the same front and rear legroom as that'73 landmark. That's a great retort to an over-six-foot friend of mine who told me that his '73 Cadillac was the only car he could fit into. He'd fit fine in the back seat of the Spark.

Buoyed by statistics like this, the Spark mini car could do as well as Chevy's new subcompact, the Sonic, whose sales are 38 percent higher the indifferent compact it replaced, the Aveo. In March, 8,251 Sonics were sold.

Americans are continuing to buy Ford Fiestas and Focuses in great numbers. Focus sales in California (the nation's largest car market) are up 135 percent in the first quarter of 2012. The fuel-efficient Fusion and the Focus are Ford's sales leaders. And the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid has rebounded from a fire scare, with sales of 1,462 in April.

By 2015, Toyota expects to sell 200,000 Priuses a year in the U.S., and 400,000 from the expanded Prius family. In the first quarter, Toyota sold 60,589 Priuses of all types in the U.S.

It will be interesting to see if Chrysler can strike gold with the new Dart, set to get 41 mpg on the highway with a 1.9-liter four, a manual transmission and a special aerodynamic-enhancing eco package. The Fiat 500 hasn't been a huge hit, but bringing back the iconic Dart name was a smart move. Sales for Chrysler overall are high, thanks in part to its first credible compact in a long while, the 200.

American automakers, tempered by the near-death experience that resulted from an over-dependence on trucks and SUVs, are unlikely to make the same mistake again. They have to stay lively, because the imports are likely to get much better, too: consider that Mercedes-Benz is about to bring a whole new class of fuel-efficient subcompacts into the American market.

Explore further: Going nuts? Turkey looks to pistachios to heat new eco-city

More information: © 2012, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Distributed by MCT Information Services

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spark joins Chevrolet's U.S. small car lineup in 2012

Oct 13, 2011

Chevrolet hopes to excite first-time buyers and city residents when the Spark mini car joins the brand’s small car family next year in the United States and Canada. The Spark is a five-door, four-passenger ...

Consumer Reports: Best, worst new cars for fuel economy

Jun 14, 2011

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assigns a fuel economy rating to all new vehicles, Consumer Reports magazine conducts its own independent testing. The magazine recently concluded testing on 2011 models ...

Ford's electric plans

Jul 18, 2011

When I think electric cars, I think the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt - then maybe Tesla and Fisker sports cars. But options for would-be electric car owners are fast expanding, and Ford is about to tap into the growing ...

Few Sparks: GM's underwhelming electric car program

Oct 18, 2011

For the first time since the late, lamented EV1 faded into oblivion in 2003, General Motors is back in the battery electric business, as it announces that it will roll out a plug-in version of the Spark minicar (it's also ...

Chevy Volt's official mileage: 93 mpg on electric

Nov 25, 2010

( -- The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) official mileage ratings of the Chevrolet Volt have been released and show the car will be capable of 93 "miles per gallon equivalent" when running ...

Recommended for you

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

Apr 17, 2014

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

Apr 17, 2014

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Hackers of Oman news agency target Bouteflika

Hackers on Sunday targeted the website of Oman's official news agency, singling out and mocking Algeria's newly re-elected president Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a handicapped "dictator".

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Easter morning delivery for space station

Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies. The shipment arrived Sunday morning via the SpaceX company's Dragon cargo capsule.