WARREN, MI – The pint-sized Chevrolet Spark does not sell in mass volumes like its larger Cruze and Malibu stablemates, but the city car serves an important role as an entryway for new, and typically younger, U.S. customers into the brand.
So General Motors executives pulling the cover off a redesigned ’16 model at the New York International Auto Show tomorrow have high hopes the sleeker, slightly longer Spark will win buyers to a brand Chevrolet marketers are reshaping.
Sales of the Spark last year were a bright spot for Chevrolet, with U.S. deliveries rising 14.7% to 39,159 units from 34,130 in like-2013, according to WardsAuto data. The 2014 sales results included the delivery of 1,146 battery-electric models. Globally, where the car is a critical play in newly developed markets for Chevy, it has accounted for more than 1 million sales since 2010.
“This is a critical car for us,” says Steve Majoros, director-marketing, passenger cars and crossovers at Chevrolet. “It brings new people to the Chevrolet franchise, (and) when you deliver them great product, they grow into the portfolio.”
The Spark, along with the somewhat larger Sonic subcompact, feed 25% of Cruze and Malibu midsize buyers. The Spark alone draws first-time Chevy buyers at a rate of 21%, while 17% of its buyers are aged less than 35 years and 51% are new to the brand.
“And this segment is going to continue to grow, almost 30% by the time 2018 rolls around,” Majoros says during a sneak peek of the new Spark here. The car will bow first in Seoul, Korea, the country where it is assembled, and then in the Big Apple a few hours later.
The new Spark, which is sold in 40 markets around the world, receives a sleeker appearance courtesy of a longer wheelbase. It’s also about 1.6 in. (41 mm) shorter in height than the current model, a pair of dimensional changes that contribute to greater fuel efficiency and retain the Spark’s trademark headroom.
GM says the Spark’s architecture was updated, too, changes that will result in greater driving precision and quietness.
“At its core, the new Spark is still the fun, agile urban car that made the first-generation model so popular, but it delivers that fun driving experience with greater sophistication,” says Sam Basile, executive chief engineer for the Spark.
“And while it’s a truly global car, it is targeted for more developed vehicle markets, allowing engineers to focus more precisely on the materials and technologies that resonate with customers in those markets,” he says in a statement.
New, More Powerful I-4
Key additions to the Spark, which arrives at U.S. dealers in the fourth quarter, include a new Ecotec 1.4L 4-cyl.; a suite of available advanced safety features; the latest Chevy MyLink infotainment system; an advanced-resolution instrument cluster display; and a lineup of personalization options.
The engine is one of a family of new 3-cyl. and 4-cyl. mills coming from GM this year. The automaker sought a balance between performance and fuel efficiency with the 1.4L unit. Rated at 98 hp, it is 16% more powerful than its predecessor, a 1.2L 4-cyl. The engine mates to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 2-step CVT. Fuel economy numbers have not been released.
As for the styling of the Spark, Michael Simcoe, vice president-design at General Motors International Operations, says the car matures with its redesign.
“It retains a youthful flair, but it’s a more refined design that reflects the maturation of the global minicar market and customers’ desires for richly styled and highly contented choices,” Simcoe says.
Consumers will see an updated grille, reflecting the styling of other new Chevy products, and elliptical headlamps that sweep into the front fenders and feature small details to convey sophistication. The Spark retains its lineup of lively colors, adding Toasted Marshmallow, Kalamata and Splash to the palette.
The interior of the Spark keeps its relatively generous headroom, GM says, but adjusts the hip-point dimensions of the seats for a more engaging driving position where passengers sit “in” the seats rather than “on” them.
Higher-quality materials also occupy the interior, and the Spark’s MyLink system now features capacitive-touch color display similar to a smartphone in its look and operation.
In addition to the 10 standard airbags that helped the previous model win top safety scores, the new Spark receives available advanced active-safety technology that includes a camera-based system to alert drivers to a potential crash, as well as forward-collision, lane-departure and side blindspot alerts.