Yesterday I test drove several next generation General Motors (GM) automobiles, including the Chevrolet Spark EV. Targeted to arrive in selected California dealerships during summer 2013, the compact yet powerful Spark will surprise drivers who are skeptical of electric vehicles (EVs) with its performance due to what GM described as a revolutionary motor and drive unit.

Despite the criticism of the Chevy Volt’s fitful on-again then off-again production, the plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) Volt had its best month of sales last month. Now GM is transferring some of the Volt’s technology to the Spark, a trailblazing EV for several reasons. First, its electric motor will be the first of its kind that an automaker will produce entirely within the United States. Plus the Spark’s propulsion system components, including its rotor configuration and bar wound copper stator, are the foundation of this next generation car that is surprisingly fun to drive and, of course, emissions free on the road.

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Chevrolet Spark comfortably seats four

But with the Spark’s “green” credentials comes performance that will shock many drivers. The 130 horsepower Spark boasts 400 lb.-ft. of torque that will leave conventional ICE cars of its size in the dust. We could not take the Spark off-site because it is not yet in production, but on one stretch, I was able to use my lead foot and experience the engine’s power that allows rapid yet smooth zero-to-60 mph acceleration in as little as eight seconds. In addition, the Spark offers the quiet ride typical of other EVs. The steering column is surprisingly tight for a car of its size. An intuitive dashboard that offers both entertainment and updates on the car’s fuel performance rounds out the Spark’s benefits. The exact range is not yet official as GM is in the midst of certifying the car’s exact specifications, but expect the Spark to exceed significantly the Volt’s current 35 to 38 battery-only mile range. Some drivers will scoff at the Spark’s size--but for commuters who can recharge at the rail station or office during the day and then home at night, the Spark could become far more than simply an adequate automobile for those content with a vehicle for hauling kids, running errands or taking short hops on the local highway.

For GM, the Spark could become an important step forward for GM’s announced goal of having up to 500,000 electric vehicles on the road with some sort of electrification by 2017. According to Mary Barra, GM’s Senior Vice President of Global Product Development, the company is on track to sell 50,000 non-ICE cars by the end of 2012. EVs still face challenges including “range anxiety,” costs, a public dubious they can offer superior performance at a low price and the lack of infrastructure that can create headaches due to the lack of charging stations. Nevertheless the Spark packs plenty of punch--and along with its other EV and PHEV cousins could catch on when the price of gasoline spikes yet once again.

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The Chevrolet Spark EV boasts 400 lb.-ft. of torque

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable BusinessInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.

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Dash of Chevrolet Spark

Disclosure: GM covered Leon Kaye’s transportation costs and accommodation in Marin County.

Image credits: Leon Kaye.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.