General Motors Co. (GM), maker of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid sedan, plans to sell an electric version of the Chevrolet Spark subcompact car in the U.S.
The electric Spark will go on sale in 2013 in select markets, after the 2012 introduction of the gasoline version, the automaker said today during a media event at its Detroit headquarters marking the Chevrolet brand’s 100th anniversary. A123 Systems Inc. (AONE) will supply the electric vehicle’s batteries.
“EVs can be a sound solution for customers living in megacities and urban centers,” said Jim Federico, a GM global vehicle line executive. “The technology is ideal for smaller vehicles like the Spark. It can provide a viable solution in markets where the infrastructure is more mature.”
The electric car is part of Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson’s push to make GM a technology leader. At the Detroit auto show in January, he said he wanted the company to build a battery-powered vehicle and to put the Volt’s powertrain system in more models. GM in August said it will build a Cadillac version of the Volt called the ELR.
“GM is making a bet on EVs, but they’re not going off the deep end with it,” said Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds.com, an auto-research website based in Santa Monica, California. “There are regulatory benefits for building EVs, but they are getting a tepid response in the market.”
GM rose 4.9 percent to $23.60 at 1:23 p.m. in New York. A123, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, surged 19 percent to $3.88, and posted its biggest intraday gain in two months.
The Sonic will have a lot of competition. J.D. Power & Associates, a marketing research firm based in Westlake Village, California, predicts that 15 electric models will come to market by the end of 2014. The firm forecasts that 58,000 of the vehicles will be sold in the U.S. in 2013.
Nissan plans to have the capacity to build 150,000 electric vehicles annually in its plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, with most of those being sold to U.S. consumers.
GM’s electric Spark will go on sale globally, Federico said. “We’ll have a launch that will start off almost like the Volt where it will start off in key countries, cities and states,” he said.
The gasoline-powered Spark will begin U.S. sales late in 2012’s first quarter. The car, which is called the Chevrolet Beat in some markets, is already being sold in Europe, South Korea, India, Mexico, South America and Australia.
The Spark is one of the cars that will use GM’s new smaller Ecotec engines, announced separately today. The automaker said it will start making the three- and four-cylinder engines by “mid-decade,” without giving more specific timing.
GM’s bigger play is the Volt, which the company says can go more than 40 miles on electric drive before the gasoline engine kicks in to charge the battery and sometimes power the car.
Chevrolet started selling the Volt in December and has been increasing production slowly. One of Akerson’s first moves as CEO was to boost Volt production for 2012 to 60,000 from 45,000.
The company sold 3,895 Volts in the U.S. this year through September and may not reach its 10,000 annual goal, Anwyl said.
“It will be tough to hit the target,” Anwyl said in a telephone interview. “It looks like GM could miss it by about 10 percent.”
GM is selling every Volt it can build, Tony Posawatz, the car’s vehicle line director, said in an interview yesterday.
The company didn’t expect quick growth in Volt demand, Federico said.
“I don’t think any of us expected electric to be a step- function of volume,” Federico said. “Our expectations are that it’s going to be a slow growth. Our technologies, our costs for batteries, go hand in hand with that slow growth.”
Volt sales in China will begin this quarter, GM said last month. The company also announced a new venture with its Chinese partner, SAIC Motor Co., in September to jointly design electric cars and develop parts for them at an existing venture in the Asian nation.
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