Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hertz Adds Chevy Volt To Car-Sharing Service, Targets Students

Car rental firm Hertz got in there early with electric cars, saying as far back as 2010 it would put the Nissan Leaf on its fleet.
Several plug-in models have followed, and for its newest initiative, Hertz is targeting younger drivers.
A Chevrolet Volt has joined the University of Connecticut's car-sharing fleet, as part of the Hertz On Demand hourly car rental program.
The company reasons that college students are "the most tech and environmentally savvy", making the university location a perfect environment for introducing people to the car.
The Chevrolet Volt at the University of Connecticut will be available in the new Storrs Center parking garage in partnership with the Town of Mansfield, Connecticut. The site was chosen as it offers four electric car recharging stations, and Mansfield has worked hard to improve alternative and energy-saving transportation with recent cycling and bus initiatives.
The University itself now has six vehicles as part of Hertz On Demand, and over 800 members have enrolled in the program.
While one Chevy Volt is only a small step, its presence gives students a good chance to try out the latest technology--and as we know, the best way of getting people interested in plug-in vehicles is to get butts on seats.
For those who don't intend to buy, or can't afford to, Hertz On Demand shares much with other short-term car rental schemes, in that its prices are temptingly low for occasional driving.
There are no annual fees and hourly rental starts from only $6.50. Customers can drive up to 180 miles per day, and gas and insurance are included. Other recent additions to the fleet include the Ford Fiesta and Fiat 500.

Source: Green Car Reports

Nissan To Triple Quick-Charging Stations For Electric Cars Over 18 Months

Nissan announced today that it would provide 40 quick-charging stations to NRG, which will use them to expand its eVgo electric-car charging network into the Washington, D.C., region.
Working with its dealers, local authorities, and charging-station partners. Nissan hopes to triple the number of quick-charging stations available in the U.S.
There are now about 160 quick-charge stations, mostly on the West Coast and in Texas; Nissan hopes to add another 500 new stations over the next 18 months.
The company envisions "a quick-charging network that links communities and neighborhoods where people live, work, shop and socialize,” according to Nissan’s director of electric vehicle marketing and sales strategy, Brendan Jones.
“Having a robust charging infrastructure helps build range confidence," Jones said, "which boosts interest in and use of electric vehicles."
The quick-charging stations can recharge a depleted Leaf battery pack to 80 percent of capacity in just half an hour, adding more than 50 miles of range under most circumstances.
Nissan is targeting three areas for the fast-charging stations: its own dealerships, workplace campuses where employees can park, and municipalities located between pairs of areas with large numbers of electric-car drivers.
The company notes that while most electric-car charging today takes place at home, workplace charging is expanding quickly. More than 1,500 companies offer it today, Jones said.
Nissan and NRG made the announcement at a press conference held at today's Washington, D.C., Auto Show.
The eVgo expansion is part of a renewed push by Nissan and eVgo to expand the availability of quick-charging stations that use the CHAdeMO standard.
That quick-charging standard can be used with a majority of the 20,000 or so Nissan Leafs sold in the U.S. (and also many of the 700 or so Mitsubishi i-MiEVs as well).
But a different standard, dubbed CCS (and also known as "SAE Combo"), will be used by U.S. and German makers in years to come. So far, no cars on sale use that standard, and no public CCS charging stations have been installed.
2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging station
2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging station
The eVgo Freedom Stations, as they're known, will have a Nissan quick-charge station and also a Level 2 240-Volt charging outlet, which can be used by any modern electric car.
Quick-charging stations are now available in eVgo networks in Houston and in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. The company says it plans to expand to the San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Joaquin Valley areas. 
That expansion is largely funded by NRG as part of the settlement of a longstanding lawsuit over excess utility fees charged to California ratepayers a decade ago.
Consumer advocates criticized the settlement as offering little to the utility customers who paid the overcharges and having been negotiated entirely behind closed doors. That position pitted them against electric-car advocates.
Nevertheless, the California Public Utilities Commission approved that settlement essentially as first proposed, meaning NRG could invest in infrastructure that will make it money rather than reimburse the ratepayers.

Source: Green Car Reports

ECOtality unveils Minit Charger for less-patient EV fleet operators

ecotality minit 12 chargerECOtality may have doubled the number of electricity-powered vehicle miles from its chargers during the past six months, but that doesn't mean the San Francisco-based company is taking its foot of the figurative gas pedal.

ECOtality, whose Blink stations are used across the country by drivers of light-duty plug-ins like theNissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, has unveiled its Minit Charger 12 for fleet operators looking to boost efficiency for their electric-drive utility vehicle fleets.

The company's Minit Charger 12 offers fast-charging capabilities for multiple vehicles. ECOtality boasts that the Minit Charger 12 can "optimize battery life" and has the "highest sustained charge rate." The device can also handle batteries with voltage ranges from 24 to 80 volts.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) launched itsEV Project in 2009 by way of a $99.8 million grant allocated to ECOtality, which set out to distribute as many as 14,000 home-based charging stations. The DOE funded the EV Project with another $15 million the following year.

So far, the EV Project has collected plug-in driving data from more than 62 million miles of electric-powered driving. That number has doubled since last summer.

Read the ECOtality release below and check out the company's e-flyer on the Minit Charger 12 here.

Source: Autoblog Green

GM investing $200M to expand powertrain engineering; consolidation in Pontiac

General Motors will invest $200 million into its Global Powertrain Engineering Headquarters to build a new 138,000 sq.-ft. test wing, which is expected to be completed during the second half of 2014. The plan is part of GM’s previously announced commitment to invest $1.5 billion in its North American facilities in 2013.
The expansion will enable the company to consolidate work being done at four locations remote to the Pontiac campus, helping to reduce development timing for GM’s next-generation advanced propulsion technologies.
Under the expansion plan, engineering development work currently being done at leased facilities in Wixom, Mich.; Castleton, Ind. and Torrance, Calif., will move to Pontiac. Also, GM R&D’s Propulsion Systems Research lab in Warren, Mich. will relocate to the Pontiac campus. GM previously announced that work being performed at its hydrogen fuel cell facility in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., would be consolidated in Pontiac in mid-2013.
In addition, the Performance Build Center, currently located at the Wixom facility, will move to GM’s Chevrolet Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky., by the first quarter of 2014.
The work GM conducts at its Wixom Advanced Engineering Lab, including electric motor engineering development and performance engineering, will be transferred to Pontiac by mid-2015. Electric motor design and production is a core business for GM in the development and manufacture of electric vehicles.
The Torrance Advanced Technology Center’s work on electric motor and power electronics engineering development will be transferred to Pontiac by the end of 2014. GM considers these technologies key to the future of sustainable transportation.
Heavy-duty transmission, power electronics, hybrid and battery electric drive unit development work done at Castleton will be transferred to Pontiac by mid-2014. GM’s work on heavy-duty transmissions is core to its pickup truck development.
GM R&D’s Propulsion Systems Research Lab will be relocated to Pontiac during the second half of 2015. This work is critical to providing technologies for GM’s engines, transmissions, and hybrid systems.

Chevy Cruze Diesel To Debut In Chicago

American automakers have shied away from diesel passenger cars for the past few decades due to bad experiences in the early 1980s. But 2013 could be a watershed year for diesel cars in America, and General Motors is set to lead the way with the Chevy Cruze Diesel, set to debut next month at the Chicago Auto Show.
GM already sells a diesel-powered Cruze over in Europe, where a 2.0 liter turbodiesel engine delivers 130 horsepower and 221 ft-lbs of torque. Rumor has it that the Cruze Eco-D diesel could achieve as high as 50 mpg on the highway using the EPA testing method (though in the UK the Cruze is rated at more than 72 mpg) and could go up to 700 miles between fill-ups.

While diesel fuel is more expensive in America, those extra mpgs could go a long way towards saving drivers money at the pump. The current Chevy Cruze Eco is rated at up to 42 mpg highway with a six-speed manual transmission, so an 8 mpg improvement could mean a few more days between fill-ups.
The Chevy Cruze Diesel is reportedly going on sale in the second-quarter of 2013, which means it has to be unveiled soon. With just two major U.S. car shows between now and April, that leaves only Chicago and New York as options…and early indicators point towards Chicago.

GM follows the lead of Chrysler, which will offer a 3.0 liter turbodiesel V6 in the Jeep Grand Cherokee this year as well. The five-passenger SUV have a 30 mpg highway rating, 7 mpg more than the gas-powered V6 model. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the MSRP. Can GM and Chrysler make the dollars-and-cents case that diesels are a better option than hybrids or EVs?

Source: GM Authority

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kept Off Freeways, Electric Cars Outpace EPA Range, Says Edmunds

Ask the average person how far an electric car will go on a charge, and they'll probably say "around 100 miles".
In reality, most electric cars have an EPA range lower than that--the Tesla Model S an honorable exception--but driving conditions can have a large effect on just how far they'll go.
Take freeways, for example. The constant high-speed driving can use up the juice pretty quickly, resulting in figures below EPA--but at lower speeds it's quite possible to exceed the official figures.
Edmunds has discovered just this, in testing most of the electric cars currently on the market.
A 105.5-mile route around Orange County in California takes in stop lights, traffic and hills, but not a single mile of freeway--and every electric vehicle they've tested has exceeded its official ratings.
From the 265-mile Tesla Model S (with its 85 kWh battery pack), which drove 267.3 miles with 2 miles remaining, to a 2011 Nissan Leaf exceeding its 73-mile EPA range by ten miles, each has comfortably beaten the EPA numbers.
Even those which couldn't complete a lap of the course still did well, with 10-15 mile improvements over EPA not uncommon. Most impressive is the2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, its 103-mile EPA numbers eclipsed by a 105.5 mile lap, with 39 miles of range still remaining--a potential 144-mile range.
Edmunds' testing is controlled, in the same weather conditions, by the same driver in the same 8am weekday traffic. The weather is mild enough not to require climate control, all speed limits are adhered to, and speed is capped at 50 mph to ensure "it doesn't turn into a freeway test."
Not everyone drives like that of course, which is rather the point--your own mileage may vary.
But it also goes to show that drivers who can resist using that instant torque for quick getaways, who give consideration to traffic conditions, and who exercise a little restraint, can easily beat an electric car's official EPA mileage. They really are efficient--even more so in comparison to hybrids and other internal combustion vehicles, which often fall a few MPG short in the real world.
Staying off the freeway certainly helps electric cars, which isn't always possible. But those that can could see their figures rapidly improve.
But next time someone asks you how far an electric car can go, you can at least give them a bit more information than "about 100 miles".

New A123 Systems LLC emerges

Li-ion battery maker A123 Systems LLC, a newly formed, wholly owned subsidiary of Wanxiang America Corporation, has acquired substantially all of the non-government business assets of bankrupt A123 Systems, Inc.
Included in the acquisition, which has received approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), are A123’s automotive, grid and commercial business assets, including technology, products, customer contracts and U.S. facilities in Michigan, Massachusetts and Missouri; its manufacturing operations in China; and its equity interest in Shanghai Advanced Traction Battery Systems Co., A123’s joint venture with Shanghai Automotive. Excluded from the acquisition is A123’s Ann Arbor, Mich.-based government business, including contracts with the US military, which were acquired by Navitas Systems LLC.
We are excited to add A123 Systems to our growing portfolio of companies as we continue to expand on our strategy of investing in the automotive and cleantech industries in the US. A123 will continue to offer cutting-edge technology for vehicle electrification and grid-scale energy storage, strong manufacturing and systems engineering capabilities and a world-class R&D team. Wanxiang America will continue to foster the technologies A123 has worked so hard to develop, and we believe this combination positions A123 for long-term success. We’d also like to thank Dave Vieau for his years of dedication and service to A123.
—Pin Ni, president of Wanxiang America
A123 Systems LLC is targeting three core business areas: transportation, electric grid and lead-acid replacement. In addition, A123 will continue operating its existing manufacturing facilities in China.
  • Transportation. In addition to its position in commercial vehicles and its presence in passenger car high-voltage systems, A123 Systems LLC will seek to capitalize on the increasing market opportunity for its technology in low-voltage applications, including start-stop micro-hybrid battery systems.
    The new company is also committed to continue executing on previously announced customer agreements introducing next-generation vehicles to market, including the ActiveHybrid 3 and ActiveHybrid 5 HEVs from BMW, the Chevrolet Spark EV from General Motors, and the Roewe 550 plug-in HEV and Roewe E50 EV from Shanghai Automotive, China’s largest automaker.
  • Electric Grid. A123 Systems LLC will continue providing energy storage solutions and services designed to significantly improve the operational reliability, economic viability and efficiency of electric power grids.
  • Lead-Acid Replacement. A123 Systems LLC will continue to service key strategic customers by supplying lithium-ion battery solutions designed to deliver higher performance, longer life and lower total cost of ownership as compared with traditional battery chemistries for industrial, commercial and consumer applications.
Distributions to creditors of the old bankrupt A123 Systems will be made pursuant to a liquidating plan or other process, in either case under the supervision and with the approval of the Bankruptcy Court.
The old A123 Systems stock is continuing to trade, despite the fact that the common stock is not expected to have value after the asset sales. After the sales close and the bankruptcy process is complete, the common stock will be cancelled and A123 will “go dark” by making a filing with the SEC that will officially terminate the registration of the stock.

Fisker Seeking Chinese Savior By Next Month

Sometimes it feels like we are picking on Fisker, because for the past year it has been one bad, sad news story after another. But it is hard to deny that Fisker faces a grim outlook unless they can get a much-needed injection of cash. This means the U.S. based automaker, which builds and ships cars over from Finland, has gone to China in search of funding…and they may have found it.

Fisker, which values its plug-in hybrid car technology at around $1 billion, needs money to get its next model, the $50,000 Fisker Atlantic, into production. Fisker has been cut off from the government teet after failing to meet sales quotas, and the proposed factory in Delaware remains idle…not that Fisker is building anything. It has reportedly been six months since a Fisker Karma was built, due to either lack of demand or lack of batteries after the sale of battery supplier A123 Systems to Wanxiang Automotive, another Chinese auto company.

It hasn’t all been bad news though, as Fisker secured another $100 million in private equity late last year. The negotiations in China have also reportedly produced two serious potential investors, who are putting together offers through the banks. How serious these companies are, we’ll know soon enough, as Fisker has set a goal of having negotiations finished by next month. And if these bids fall short, or the two parties can’t come to a mutual agreement? Fisker has made deals with China before, including a deal that puts Fisker Karmas in the showrooms of China Grand Automotive Group. But can they pull of a final-quarter Hail Mary pass to save the whole shabang?

Well we hate to say it, but 2013 might be Fisker’s last bad year…and not in a good way.

Ford, Mercedes And Nissan Ally On Hydrogen Cars

Hydrogen fuel cells always seems to be just beyond the reach of even the world’s largest companies, which can really mean only one thing; car companies need to pool their resources to make hydrogen cars an affordable and practical reality. No wonder Ford, Mercedes, and Nissan have signed a technology pact to produce a car that emits nothing but water by 2017.

If you ask automakers what they think is the real future of alternative fuel vehicles, most will say the same thing; hydrogen. Because it is so plentiful and emits only water, cars powered by hydrogen combine quiet and clean EV technology with the ease and convenience of filling something similar conventional combustion engines.

The problem is that this technology is proving increasingly costly to develop, and led Mercedes to delaying deployment of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle by another three years, though they have working models on the road now. Hyundai and Toyota have both pledged to start selling hydrogen cars by 2015 or 2016, and Honda will already lease you a FCX Clarity hydrogen car…if you live in California. Toyota and BMW have announced a development deal to produce hydrogen cars, and the Mercedes-Nissan-Ford deal was no doubt in the works for some time too.

The trio of automakers representing arguably the most successful car-making countries will split development costs in the hopes of deploying hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2017. The deal aims to create a hydrogen fuel drivetrain, or “stack” that can be used in three very different vehicles, one sold by each member of the alliance.
The three automakers will share decades of research, as well as try to send a message to politicians and parts makers about what might be called the automotive end-game; clean, affordable, and convenient transportation. But will this alliance finally pan out, or will the goal posts for hydrogen cars move yet again?

Source: Gas2.0

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Closer Look at the 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid

"Vanilla." Taken in modern context, that's not a compliment, but it should be. Vanilla actually has exotic origins, and as spices go, only saffron is more costly. Despite the realities, calling something "vanilla" is not whistling in admiration. The Toyota Camry has been called "vanilla" countless times since its debut, but both the car and the bean have something up their sleeves.

Scoff all you want, but vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor, and there is no mainstream sedan that outsells the Camry. Apparently, vanilla has an underlying tinge of filthy lucre. We didn't feel rich, exactly, wheeling around in the Camry Hybrid, but we came away impressed, nonetheless.

"When I go to an ice cream parlor for the first time, I always order their vanilla," says Ralph Hannabury. Why vanilla? "When you're making ice cream, everything builds off vanilla. If they have that right, you know they know what they're doing," Ralph explained. Who is Ralph Hannabury? For more than two decades, he made ice cream for Russo's Candy House in Saugus, Massachusetts. Ralph knows vanilla, and good vanilla is hard.

It's the same thing with cars. Supercars are easy compared to a good, bland sedan that starts faithfully every day for hundreds of thousands of miles and exhibits none of the bad habits that are "features" when you're talking exclusive machinery. The Camry is a riot of dispassion to car people, and the Hybrid only moreso with its Hybrid Synergy Drive sopping up whatever visceral treats you can find in the standard Camry.

2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid side view2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid front view2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid rear view

The Camry Hybrid is understated about its fuel efficiency.
Keeping the recipe metaphor going, even the best ingredients can't stand up to a poor chef. If the seasoning is overbearing or cooking technique flawed, you'll ruin expensive raw materials. With the Camry Hybrid, Toyota proves its skill at making the tricky Hybrid Midsize Sedan Souflee.

The Camry Hybrid is understated about its fuel efficiency. Look once, it's a Camry, just like the thousands of other Camrys that Toyota sells every couple of days. Look twice, it's still just like every other Camry and it's got extra little badges on its front quarter panels. Look a third time and you might notice the Hybrid-specific 17-inch tire and wheel package, but probably not.

2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid headlight2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid wheel2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid taillight2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid badge

Just like every Camry audio system, this one had an unpleasant trebly edge.
The Camry Hybrid interior is more distinctive, with its own gauge cluster, different plastic trim replacing the fake-wood-patterned standard trim, and Hybrid-specific seat fabric in quick-to-dinge ivory or light gray. The Camry Hybrid shares its acoustic glass windshield with the V6 model to keep noise out, and our car had the JBL GreenEdge audio system for making it. Just like every Camry audio system, this one had an unpleasant trebly edge that was only somewhat mitigated by selecting analog-only radio reception instead of the HD Radio default.

Our test car was also equipped with navigation and the Entune multimedia system. Entune is Toyota's answer to SYNC and MyFord Touch from Ford, with app support (apparently using Bing, making restaurant reservations with OpenTable and using to secure access to a matinee) plus weather, traffic, stocks and sports. With all those distractions pumping at you from the 6.1 inch LCD, it's a good thing the Camry Hybrid also has 10 airbags, high strength steel in the B-pillar and rocker panels, electronic nannies like stability control, radar-based Blind Spot Monitor and Safety Connect to call for help when you do wreck.

2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid interior2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid front seats2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid rear seats2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid trunk

The dynamic compromises Toyota made for the Camry Hybrid were the right ones.
The tech isn't quite as easy to use as systems like Chrysler UConnect or even the half-reviled MyFord Touch, but it becomes an innocuous part of the experience quickly. Except for that horrible-sounding audio system. It's like they designed in tinnitus from the start. The rest of the interior impressions are the same as other Camrys. The seats are comfortable and decently supportive, the dashboard is topped with stitching in an attempt to class up the joint, though the panel doesn't blend into the doors gracefully and there are a lot of hard plastics around. It's roomy, comfortable, and the trunk doesn't even take much of a hit with the addition of the 244-volt hybrid battery pack, and it's in fact up 2.1 cubic feet over the last-gen Camry Hybrid.

Driving the Camry Hybrid is not going to light any enthusiasts' hair on fire, though it'll put electrons and molecules to work when you mash the throttle all the way to the carpet for a 7.6-second run to 60 miles per hour, slotting neatly between the more-than-fine four-cylinder model and bonkers-rocketship V6. Low-rolling-resistance tires are also low capability tires, so there's little point in trying to achieve thrilling cornering speeds. Driven like a normal person, of course, the dynamic compromises Toyota made for the Camry Hybrid were the right ones.

2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid engine

Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system is flat-out the best implementation of such a setup we've yet to sample.
While it's not a high performance car in the hot rod sense, the Camry Hybrid is a high performer in its own right. Toyota's continued development of its Hybrid Synergy Drive system is flat-out the best implementation of such a setup we've yet to sample in a midsize sedan. The new Ford Fusion is looking to challenge that, but other comers like the Hyundai and Kia twins can't touch the Camry Hybrid's level of refinement, seamless handoff between electric propulsion and gas engine, and isolation from the judders of engine stops and starts.

The gas engine is a larger 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder with more torque than before. It's been tweaked with a water-cooled EGR system that reduces the temperature of exhaust gas that gets re-routed to the intake to control emissions, a move that was previously accomplished by enriching the mixture. The new way saves more fuel, and the Hybrid Synergy drive system has been tweaked to increase efficiency by reducing transaxle losses, improving motor control, and an EV Drive mode has been added this time around, too. Toyota rates the net power from the electric and internal-combustion sources at 200 horsepower, which is more than plenty when you consider the surprisingly svelte 3,190 sub-3,500 pound curb weight and slick 0.27 drag coefficient.

2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid rear 3/4 view

The Camry Hybrid is exceptional for its normality.
That EV Drive mode only lasts for 1.6 miles, and if there's a hill in the way, forget it, you're not getting far without firing the motor. There's still the ECO mode you can select if you want to really be infuriated by unresponsive controls, too. When you just treat the Camry Hybrid like a normal car, i.e. stick it in Drive and go, only the brakes give away the hybrid-ness. Even at that, Toyota's got the regen-to-friction braking switchover very well managed.

The regular Camry isn't a standout in any category, while the Camry Hybrid is exceptional for its normality while returning EPA fuel economy estimates of 43 miles per gallon city, 39 mpg highway in LE trim, which drops to 40/38 in XLE guise. Our highway-heavy drive cycle returned us 38 mpg, bang on the estimates. Or, you could get a diesel Passat. There is only one car that offers the Camry nameplate and this kind of fuel economy, and that's the Camry Hybrid, and it's perhaps the most outstanding Camry of all.

Source: Autoblog

2013 Chevrolet Spark: Gas Mileage Test

We tend to like small cars, as a personal preference.
But the very smallest of cars often don't get the best gas mileage, and they can feel subjectively unsafe in some driving conditions.
So how did our 2013 Chevrolet Spark minicar do on gas mileage?
We've concluded that--depending how you use it--it can deliver a genuine 35 mpg or more in mixed usage.
We spent the weekend with a bright red 2013 Spark, taking it on our usual 350-mile drive cycle that's about two-thirds freeway and one-third running around town and country roads.
Over that distance, we averaged 35.8 mpg (the photo was taken before a few miles of stop-and-go city traffic to return our test car to the General Motors garage).
That's quite good for a car that stickers below $16,000, offers four seats and four doors. Especially one that, with a 32.5-foot turning circle, may be the easiest thing to park this side of a Smart ForTwo or Scion iQ.
Our 2013 Spark weekend test car turned out to be identical to one we drove briefly in Los Angeles last month. Both were Salsa Red 2LT models, the highest of three trim levels.
Both had five-speed manual transmissions with their 84-horsepower, 1.2-liter four-cylinder engines--and were EPA-rated at 34 mpg combined (32 mpg city, 38 mpg highway).
But in LA, we put on just 40 miles, most of it in Southern California freeway traffic--meaning speed that varied at random from stop-and-go to 85 mph and back.
That's not good for gas mileage, and in that (quite unrepresentative) test, our Spark returned 30.6 mpg.
We think the 35.8 mpg over our longer, more mixed weekend test is a better approximation of real-world usage--though, as always, your mileage will vary.
2013 Chevrolet Spark, road test, January 2013
2013 Chevrolet Spark, road test, January 2013
The little Spark (it's only 12 feet long) felt fairly composed at Interstate speeds, although we found it the electric power steering more numb at high speeds than around town. The Spark required frequent course corrections, and was also susceptible to side winds.
But aside from its narrow cabin--which caused two adult men in winter coats to rub elbows--only a few things betrayed the fact that it's fully 14 inches shorter than the five-door Chevrolet Sonic subcompact hatchback.
The front passenger had to keep his left knee away from the shift lever, and there was only room for a single center armrest (on the driver's seat). When folded down, that armrest impedes access to the driver's belt receptacle and even the emergency brake.
A dangling key fob bounces off the driver's right knee. And the shift lever was sited a couple of inches further rearward than the driver might expect.
But one of the nice things about the Spark is that while it's narrow, it's tall--everyone sits up straight, meaning that you don't get the low-to-the-ground view out that makes some small cars feel smaller yet. From behind the wheel, the driver's position could be in a compact car.
Well, perhaps a very small compact car.
2013 Chevrolet Spark
2013 Chevrolet Spark
The rear seats--just two of them, separated by a hard-plastic bin and cupholder built into the seat cushion--are suitable for adults, though front- and rear-seat passengers will have to bargain over legroom.
But we were impressed that the vast majority of the Spark's interior volume was devoted to people, at the expense of a rear load bay that might fit four to six grocery bags with the seat up--but not a lot else.
Chevy seems sufficiently worried about the Spark's small size that the company went to the extent of creating an infographic that compares the Spark to a 1973 full-size sedan.
We think the Spark is small, but quite sufficient for two people. And its opening rear doors make it way, way more practical for occasional third- and fourth-passenger use than the two-door Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, even if they do have "rear seats".
Reasonable minds may differ on that issue.

On the other hand, the Spark seems to be proving slightly more popular than Chevy had projected. The company said in October it has had to increase its Spark imports from Korea to meet the demand.
The Spark's low price came with a handful of oddities. For instance, unlike every other car we've tested over the last few years, the power locks didn't unlock when the key was pulled out of the ignition.
It's a simple thing, but it's now so intuitive that we spent the entire weekend trying to open the locked driver's door after yanking out the key--and then cursing, hitting the master lock switch, and trying again.
There is also no automatic-down on the driver's window, let alone automatic-up. Cost savings, we understand, but we really missed that one too.
On the other hand, Chevy has gone to the expense of providing an interior gas-door release. Many minicars simply require a simple push on the gas door.
And that gas tank only holds 9.2 gallons, meaning that even at about 35 mpg, we had to refuel before 300 miles were up.
For an inexpensive car, the Spark's 7-inch touchscreen display is impressive. Pairing a smartphone and streaming Pandora was simple, though we still haven't tested BringGo, the $50 app that runs on a smartphone to provide navigation and routing that's displayed on the screen.
The basic Spark LS model starts at $12,995 including delivery, but omits cruise control, the 7-inch touchscreen display, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, audio controls on the steering wheel, as well as power locks and mirros, floor mats, and even floor mats.
Those items are all found on the mid-level Spark 1LT, which starts at $14,495.
Our pair of identical Salsa Red 2013 Chevy Sparks were the high-end 2LT trim level, which adds 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, a handful of exterior embellishments like chrome trim, and then inside, leatherette two-tone upholstery on heated front seats, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The bottom line for our test car was $15,045, plus a mandatory $750 delivery fee, totaling $15,795.
You can also order this model with a four-speed automatic transmission, which adds an additional $925. But don't do it. The manual is faster and far more rewarding to drive, and won't leave you nervously wondering if the car can accelerate fast enough to get out of the way of large trucks.
We learned that during our first drive of the 2013 Spark, in which we were assigned an automatic test car in the very, very noticeable Techno Pink color.
You'll like the manual better, we promise. The color, however, is entirely up to you.

Source: Green Car Reports