Zach Hurst over at EV Resource has some sad news for us: GM will no longer support Spark EV batteries, even for the few remaining vehicles still under the 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
“EV Resource has confirmed that GM will no longer be providing replacement battery packs for the Spark EV. This means that when the high-voltage (HV) battery fails, owners will have zero options to repair their car. None. Their vehicle will never drive again.” he said in a blog post.
The Spark EV was GM’s attempt to get back into the all-electric game, and it wasn’t a bad vehicle. After killing the EV1 (that alone is a long, long story best told by the documentary Who Killed The Electric Car), GM re-entered the EV market with the Chevrolet Volt, one of the first mass-produced plugin hybrids. Initial versions came with a battery that could go around 30 miles on a charge but then revert to being a hybrid like the popular Toyota Prius. It was one of two cars that spearheaded mainstream auto companies’ response to the Tesla Roadster and upcoming Model S (which was initially going to be a plugin hybrid in early planning), with the other being Nissan’s electric-only LEAF.
GM saw the writing on the wall, especially with Tesla abandoning plans to build a hybrid Model S. In 2012-13, it had a good battery research program going, but it didn’t have specific plans for an all-electric car. So, when demand for EVs increased and California pushed for more EVs, GM had to quickly come up with a solution. It took its gas-powered economy car, the Spark, and adapted it to be an EV compliance car.
For those unfamiliar with the term, compliance cars are low-range EVs that auto companies build to satisfy governmental quotas or requirements, or to earn other regulatory advantages/credits they would otherwise have to buy from another automaker building their own EVs. Chevy made the Spark EV. Ford made the Focus EV. Toyota worked with Tesla to make the 2012-14 Rav4 EV, while FCA (not Stellantis) made the Fiat 500e and told customers to not buy it. All of these vehicles had practical ranges of under 100 miles, and were sold for below cost because nobody would want to pay for what the vehicles were at a profitable price. But, being able to continue selling SUVs and pickup trucks in California and other ZEV states made selling these at a loss worth it.
Unlike some other compliance cars, the Spark EV was actually pretty decent. Sure, it had a short range, but everything else about the vehicle was actually pretty good. One of its competitors, the Focus EV, made compromises, like reduced trunk space, poor vehicle dynamics/weight distribution, and no Level 3 charging to stuff batteries in and sell cheap. GM actually put more effort into the Spark EV, giving it better weight distribution, a more tightly-integrated package, optional Level 3 charging, and more torque than V8 pony cars from the same year. The same basic design, but with a bigger battery pack and in a larger car, was used for the Bolt EV.
The Spark EV made for an even better value proposition as a used car. As Tesla was ramping up Model 3 production and EVs became the desirable car younger people aimed at, many of the Spark EVs were coming off lease or being sold by their owners who were looking to upgrade to a better EV. Because the cars had a short range and initially sold for so little new, prices were dirt cheap for used Spark EVs in the late 2010s.
Many of them ended up at innovative used car lots like this one we wrote about in 2019, giving thrifty people and people with low incomes the ability to get into driving electric vehicles without having to pay Tesla prices.
Why GM Isn’t Supporting Its Batteries Now
Zack Hurst says he talked to GM when his Spark EV’s battery failed, and their explanation is that they ordered enough batteries from suppliers like A123 and later LG Chem to cover the cars they planned to manufacture, plus an unspecified number of extras to replace packs that failed under warranty. Exact figures aren’t available, but the number of failed battery packs must have exceeded the number they had on hand, leaving none left.
If you have a Spark EV under warranty today, and it fails, the Chevrolet dealer will have good news and bad news for you. The good news? They’ll honor the warranty and not just refuse to do anything about the situation. The bad news? Because there’s no battery pack to replace the broken one, they won’t be able to repair the vehicle. So, they’ll buy the vehicle from you to end the warranty contract based on what you paid for it and how much you’ve driven since then. From what I’ve gathered, the amount they’ll offer isn’t great, especially when you consider that the market prices for used vehicles are through the roof right now.
If you’re in love with the vehicle and decide to keep it, or if you’ve got a Spark EV that’s out of warranty, there presently aren’t any options for repair. While aftermarket batteries, salvage batteries, and repair services are available for an older Nissan LEAF or Tesla Model S, not many Spark EVs were made and their market value is too low to justify big bucks for a repair.
When Hurst reached out to Electrified Garage, the shop owned by Rich Benoit of the Rich Rebuilds YouTube Channel, he didn’t have good news, but he did say, “if you go online and type in ‘Tesla battery pack’ you’re going to get quite a few results. But for the Spark EV, there’s nothing really there. This is a really, really tough scenario. This is so difficult, not many people have even bothered to take apart a Spark EV. It’s actually really sad.”
Existing owners are understandably upset about the situation. Even if their car is running now, it’s a car with no future, no matter how enthusiastic some owners are with the car. Some people on Facebook groups have said they’re in real emotional pain over it, but have decided to trade the car in or sell it to get a newer EV, like the Chevrolet Bolt EV. But, there’s just no replacing the tiny and cute Spark EV.
Featured image by Zack Hurst, EV Resource. Used with permission.
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