Future Cars

2011 Chevrolet Spark: The Nitty-Gritty

Is it possible to launch a car without launching a car? GM did just that at the 2009 North American International Auto Show, revealing the first image of the 2011 Chevrolet Spark minicar while rolling out onto the show stand the similar 2007 Beat concept. The production hatchback will appear live and in the sheetmetal at the 2009 Geneva motor show, but we sat down with sources close to the program to learn a little bit more.

It Looks Familiar

It should. If you’ll recall the 2007 New York auto show, you’ll remember a trio of pint-sized concepts: the Beat, the Trax, and the Groove. Each represented a possible design direction for GM’s forthcoming new production minicar. GM asked the public to vote for their favorite design on its website.

Some two million votes were cast, and the Beat came out on top. The sole photo shown of the production 2011 Spark is almost a dead ringer for the Beat concept, save for the addition of two rear doors. GM hasn’t shown an interior photo, but sources suggest it too will closely ape the concept’s cabin and include niceties like MP3 audio systems and Bluetooth connectivity.

From Bupyong, With Love

As with both the Aveo and the current Spark/Matiz (sold in Europe and other markets), GM’s leveraged its Korean Daewoo subsidiary for both development and production. That will be the same for the new Spark. Although engineering was overseen by Opel in Russelshiem, Germany, most activity, including assembly, will be performed in South Korea.

Size (or the lack of) Matters

It’s been called a microcar, and for good reason – this thing will be small. Though it’s expected to be somewhat larger than the present Spark/Matiz, which is a scant 138 inches long and 59 inches wide, it will be slightly smaller than the current Aveo, which measures 170 inches long and 67 inches wide. (The next-generation Aveo, by the way, will likely grow a bit as it moves up to the Opel Corsa’s Gamma platform with its next redesign, in 2011 or 2012.)

To most Americans – save for Smart ForTwo owners – the Spark will appear Lilliputian, but they may be surprised by the interior. We’re told that clever packaging will yield a cabin that’s not noticeably smaller than today’s Aveo, but cargo space will be compromised – don’t expect to get more than a couple duffel bags behind the rear seat.

Sparks destined for North America will be larger than their overseas brethren in one way: engine displacement. While vehicle classes and tax brackets in many Pacific markets mandate engines smaller than 1.0-liter in displacement, Americans will likely see something along the lines of a 1.2-liter four-cylinder. GM executives are promising fuel economy of 40 mpg highway, which would surpass the smaller, two-seat Smart.

Will It Sell?

That remains to be seen. Though GM was (more or less) playing by itself when it brought the subcompact Aveo to our shores, the viability of the segment had already been proven years earlier by the likes of the Geo Metro and the Ford Aspire. That’s not the case for the even-smaller Spark – aside from the Smart ForTwo, this segment is a relatively unproven one in the truck loving U.S-of-A.

Still, GM has some reason to bring the car stateside. The quick shift away from large trucks and SUVs has shown automakers that if gas is expensive enough – say, $4 a gallon – consumers will move to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Smart sold nearly 25,000 cars in the U.S. last year, while Mini’s U.S sales were above 54,000 units, making North America the brand’s largest market.

There’s also the matter of the web voting – while some differed in which concept they preferred, all shared one common message: build one, and bring it here. And GM will, in the fourth quarter of 2011.