I am now the proud owner of my first electric car - the newly released 2014 Chevy Spark EV. And yes, the car featured at the preceding link looks exactly like the one I got. I think the blue is close to a Carolina or UCLA blue with metallic sparkles.
It's an electrified version of the gasoline powered Spark which has been sold in the US for 3 years. The Spark (and Spark EV) are assembled in Korea. The electric drive system and batteries are US designed and made and shipped to Korea for integration into the the Spark chassis. The Spark is built in a Daewoo plant (the Spark is sold in Korea as the Daewoo Matiz).
It's a tiny car but designed well for maximum passenger space. It seats 4 adults comfortably.
The gasoline Spark is targeted as an entry level car. It has a 4-cylinder engine which produces about 84 horsepower and an equal amount of foot-pounds torque. Needless to say, it isn't exactly a speedster.
The EV Spark is something else. The advanced electric motor drive and lithium battery pack produce 135 horsepower and a nearly unbelievable 400 lb-ft of torque. To put this in perspective, the Porsche Boxter S is listed at 206 lb-ft of torque. The torque of the electric motor is available from a standing start where the typical gas engine must rev to a very high RPM to produce its maximum torque. Hence the need for several ranges of transmission gearing to accelerate.
The EV Spark has no transmission, at least a mechanical one. It is tied to the transaxle/differential with a single reduction gear - in other words, the motor is responsible for all changes of speed. In theory, the Spark EV could go almost as fast in reverse as forward - at least from a power perspective. It won't of course because the software that controls the delivery of electricity to the motor won't allow it. The Spark motor in design is very similar to the motor on my Fisher Paykel washing machine which are both brushless DC motor designs. The magnetic field rotates in the stator which moves the permanent magnet rotor.
In fact, though the motor is capable of this high torque, it is effectively governed down through the electronic control of its electrical delivery from the 21.5KW battery. A friend of mine who retired from GM's electric drive design team (he was involved in writing the code for several of the control systems on the Volt) says that the motor is capable of considerably higher levels of power and torque but it would be impractical due to the high rate of battery depletion.
The EV Spark with a full charge starts with 89 miles indicated as the top range but depending on one's driving style can ge considerably more. As I have been getting about 30% higher mileage than charge expended, I feel confident I could go over 100 miles on a single charge.
Here is the beauty of an an electric vehicle. Most owners of this type of car do not drive more than 30 miles a day. The Chevy Volt which has a gasoline 'range extender' engine has proven this since most of its owner base report very low consumption of gasoline as the Volt's battery-only range is around 40 miles. If you need more mileage, the Volt's range-extender engine comes on and through a generator provides charge to the battery. It can also at higher speeds couple directly to the drive train.
I did not want an internal combustion engine in my electric vehicle as our driving tends to be under 50 miles round-trip with lots of errands and stop and go. I felt we would be paying a price to lug around 600lbs of IC engine and related systems (exhaust system, gas tank) for infrequent use.
In an IC engine powered car, local errand driving means frequent starting and shutting off of the engine which is inefficient in use of gasoline and produces wear and tear on the battery and starter. Also, stop and go traffic involves frequent usage of the brakes which dissipate energy that was spent accelerating the car. All this besides the loss of energy through the necessary cooling of the engine results in a low efficiency in conversion of thermal content of the fuel to actual mileage of the vehicle.
The Spark EV and other electric vehicles including hybrids can recover energy in the form of regenerated electricity. In my Spark, I can put the car in 'Low' gear which only affects the deceleration effect of the motor when easing off the throttle. Driving in this mode, simply lifting your foot off the throttle brakes the car without needing to engage the brake (in regular Drive, the brake modulates the regeneration so the experience is just like driving with a conventional brake). It's like downshifting in a manual transmission car to use the engine to slow you down (I owned manual transmission cars for most of my adult driving). In the Spark, I can slow down to about 5 mph using this regenerative braking before I have to engage the brake pedal. This potentially has some safety drawbacks as drivers following you, if not paying attention, could fail to see you rapidly decelerating and rear end you. So I use this form of driving and braking only when there is not a lot of traffic around.
The Spark has a surprisingly sophisticated electronic dashboard and telephone/entertainment system. Touchscreen control and Bluetooth integration of phone, MP3 content and GPS provide an unexpected level of driver services. It also has OnStar driver support (free for the term of the lease) and its own wireless number for emergency use.
I am fortunate to live in California and the air resource board has mandated that auto manufacturers comply with zero emission requirements to have a certain percentage of their fleet sales be all or partly electric. In April, a price war of sorts was started by Nissan when they reduced the price of their 3-year lease on the base Leaf to $200/month with a $2000 drive-off. Fiat and Chevy responded with $200/month $1000 drive-off (Fiat 500e and Chevy Spark) and Honda with a $259/mo $0 drive-off on their Fit EV. Fiat and Honda have no intention of building other than the minimum number to comply with state mandates in California and Oregon. Nissan and Chevy have national sales targets and Chevy started their roll-out with California and Oregon.
The Honda Fit EV and Fiat 500e cars are in short supply and hard to get and for now, so is the Spark. The Leaf, having been in production and sales for a couple of years is a bit easier to find. The cars are fairly similar in range and performance and the Fiat and Honda have faster charging capability than the Spark and entry Leaf. They do differ in passenger and cargo carrying capabilities. I would judge the Fit and Leaf cars to have the most practicality, the Spark next and the Fiat last.
The economics are what drove me to acquire the Spark. I am effectively getting 4.5 miles per kilowatt of energy. A kilowatt-hr of electricity is about $.25 on average for me so assuming about 4 miles/kw, I can drive the 20 miles I get per gallon in one of my gas cars for $1.25 of electricity compared to $4/gal gas. The lease price was kept low by dealer incentives and the $7500 federal tax credit that the leasing company will claim. I, however, will be the direct beneficiary of a $2500 California Air Resource Board rebate for leasing the Spark for 3 years. That will cover my drive off and first two months of lease payment. I get 12,000 miles annually but do not see coming anywhere near that. At the end of the lease, I can purchase the car for around $21K but will see how the state of electric cars is at that time.
Some other perks are solo-driver privileges in the HOV (carpool) lane which also includes toll sections of the I-110 and I-10 freeways in Los Angeles. There is also free street parking in Santa Monica and Hermosa Beach where an hour of time can be $1.25.
When I arrive home and place my hand on the hood of the Spark, it is as cool as the rest of the car. I expect the brake pads to last at least 5 years if not more since they are only used to bring the car to a full stop. The maintenance schedule is: every 7500 miles, rotate the tires (side-to-side since the tire sizes are different front to back), replace brake fluid every 30,000 miles, drain and refill the motor unit oil at 97,500 miles (oil is used to cool the motor) and drain and replace the battery pack and environmental cooling fluid (antifreeze) at 150,000 mile. That's it. No oil changes, brake jobs, air cleaner (except the passenger compartment air filter) and fuel filter changes. Of course, you still have to replace the wiper blades and inspect the suspension and fluid systems for leaks. If I turn the car in after 3 years there is the high probability I will only have had to rotate tires which I can do myself.
The car is a blast to drive. Not that I'm looking for challenges but this is a very stealthy car. I have blown away large SUVs and other sporty cars like Minis from the stoplight. They don't expect the high-rate of linear acceleration (no gear shifts) from a tiny hatchback. And on the freeway, it continues the rapid acceleration all the way past 80 mph which is where I usually get concerned of getting stopped by the highway patrol and slow down.
From an energy efficiency standpoint (and greenhouse gas generation), the EV is exemplary. The average IC engine will get around 25% efficiency converting the energy content of gasoline to horsepower at the wheels. And once that IC car is moving, that energy is then effectively wasted when brakes are applied.
The typical modern natural gas plant will get 40 - 50% efficiency in gas to electrical generation. Deduct another 5% for transmission and conversion to the house panel and charging. The electric drive will use that electricity at around 80%. And it will recover a substantial amount through regenerative braking.
The greenhouse gas load will vary since the grid power includes very low CO2 sources such as wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and photovoltaic as well as fossil fuels like coal and petroleum. It would seem intuitive that the overall CO2 produced to net a mile of EV travel would be much lower than a mile driven in a similar IC engine powered car which is largely petroleum powered.
I like that when I'm a solo driver that I am not expending large amounts of energy to move a large vehicle around just to make meetings and appointments or running small errands.
There is an infrastructure cost, if you will, of the car charging circuit. While you can plug in the supplied Level 1 120volt 'charger' in an ordinary outlet, it can take up to a day to charge a fully depleted battery. However, we have not and don't expect to run the charge down more than 50% and it will be almost fully recharged overnight using existing house wiring and the Level 1. I will be adding an additional dedicated power outlet providing 240 volts at up to 40 amps and a Level 2 Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) which I will build myself. You can buy a commercial unit and have it installed by an electrician for between $1500 and $2000. Honda provides the Level 2 EVSE for free with the FIT lease, Chevy will rebate $500 for the installation of a Bosch charger. I am building my own Level2 EVSE based on an open-source design. It will cost less than half of a commercial charger and I can upgrade it myself to a higher capacity should we get a future EV with higher charging current requirements. With the Level 2 EVSE, the Spark will charge from a fully depleted state to full in 7 hours. That's slower than the FIT and Fiat which have onboard chargers with twice the charging current capacity. Interestingly enough, the Spark has an option for DC high-rate charging which currently only the Tesla and Leaf cars support (using different charging designs). I don't have it and don't really need it so am not interested in paying another $1000 for the feature when the availability of the charging stations is near zero at this time.
So that's my story. Feel free to ask further questions in the comments and I'll be happy to share any info that might be helpful.