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TheStreet Open House

After the Volt? The Chevy Spark

Stocks in this article: GM

A hundred or 120 miles, you say? Isn't that peanuts compared with the Tesla Model S, which will offer perhaps 160 miles with its base version, and 300 miles for the premium model? Yes, of course -- but the Tesla is a much more expensive car. The 160-mile base Tesla is $57,400, and the 300-mile version is $77,400. Add all the options and we're talking around $100,000.

In other words, the Chevy Spark, while obviously being a much smaller and simpler car for sure, will arrive at approximately half the price of the most basic Tesla Model S. Then subtract the same $9,000 in tax incentives, and we may be comparing a $20,000 car with a $50,000 car. That's 60% less. These two cars have something in common, but they aren't the most direct competitors.

Spark Vs. LEAF

A more fair comparison for the Chevy Spark Electric would be the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric. Those cost mostly between $35,000 and $40,000 -- at least $5,000-$10,000 more than what I expect for the Chevy Spark Electric. That price premium would be justified because they are slightly larger cars, but perhaps mitigated if the Chevy Spark can achieve a meaningfully longer range.

I find that most Nissan LEAF owners with whom I speak are concerned with the limited 73-mile average range -- even though the theoretical maximum exceeds 130 miles. With no safety margin, a 73-mile average means "range anxiety" for a lot of people. Many of these Nissan LEAF owners are regretting they didn't buy a Volt instead, which of course is not subject to any electric range limitation. I hear stories of a handful of LEAF owners trading them in for a Volt.

Many of these Nissan LEAF (and Ford Focus Electric) owners would gladly have traded some vehicle size for meaningfully better range. Therefore, if Chevrolet can achieve over 100 miles, perhaps even 110 or 120, worth of range, GM will put a fat dent into Nissan's LEAF sales. Of course, one can always surmise that Nissan is deep down into the LEAF 2.0 development, and the chief objectives of that car will of course be cost reduction and an improvement in the meager 73 mile average range.

Meanwhile, however, GM now has the opportunity, at least for a while, for a "smack-down" if it can deliver a $29,000 (or less) Chevy Spark that is awarded a 100+ mile EPA range certification. An all-electric 100-to-120-mile car is obviously still not for everyone -- duh! -- but it would fit the needs of millions of car buyers, and be a class leader if launched with those specs as early as possible in 2013.

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