GM’s New Electric Chevy Spark – More Green Insanity

Albert Einstein is credited with having defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Well, prepare for more insanity as General Motors is doubling down on green energy and plug-in cars after the disappointing sales results from previous entries into the field. The politically-motivated hype that we saw, and continue to see, on the Chevy Volt will be repeated. This time the over-hyped vehicle will be a Korean-made, all-electric Chevy Spark.

The misrepresentations from GM and the media on the Spark EV (electric vehicle) are already starting with headlines on stories (like this one from Bloomberg) boasting that the car will start at a price tag of under $25,000. Not exactly. For some strange reason, the price of the new Spark EV and the Chevy Volt are now being quoted after tax incentives. It is also interesting to note that Bloomberg quotes the competing Nissan Leaf price before tax incentives. Here is the important fact that proponents of plug-in EVs fail to grasp. THE COST OF A SUBSIDIZED VEHICLE IS NOT LOWERED BY TAX INCENTIVES; IT IS ONLY BORNE BY OTHERS.

The new Spark EV will start at around $32,000, not under $25,000 as reported. Taxpayers will pay to reimburse buyers of the vehicle (who will probably have above average income) $7,500 through federal tax credits. The Spark will compete with the Nissan Leaf, which starts at around $35,000 and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which starts at around $29,000. All of these cars are all-electric vehicles with electric ranges from around 70 miles to a yet undisclosed range for the Spark which will likely be closer to a 90 to a 100 mile range. The Leaf and i-MiEV have been utter failures, but that isn’t stopping GM from building a new vehicle to compete with them.

The Leaf has been selling at a rate of fewer than 1,000 per month, less than half of its goal. The i-MiEV has been doing even worse. The plug-in Chevy Volt has been doing slightly better than the Leaf and i-MiEV with sales spurred by incentivized leases from government-owned Ally Financial. In addition, the Volt loses money for taxpayers and GM shareholders with every vehicle sold and the sales figures will fall far short of early GM goals. And now we will spend taxpayer money on the electric Spark to create green jobs in South Korea.

To put the EV sales figures in perspective, GM sells close to 20,000 Chevy Cruzes each month compared to average sales of the plug-ins of about a thousand or two. So why in the world is GM pushing a new plug-in EV Spark to compete in a segment that has minimal demand? The answer must be that political goals rather than economic ones are driving decisions at a company whose management team has been appointed by President Obama. The government continues to refuse to sell its investment stake in GM and, judging from the insane Spark EV focus, seems to have a say in how the company is being run.

Another way to look at the logic, or lack thereof, of the Spark EV is to compare it to the gasoline-powered Spark. The plug-in version cost about $20,000 more than the gasoline one. Of that, $7,500 will be reimbursed to buyers of the EV from all taxpaying Americans. The average motorist drives about 15,000 miles per year. The Spark EV will use no gas, thus saving about 430 gallons of fuel versus the gas-powered Spark which gets about 35 miles per gallon. So the average driver can save about $1,700 a year in gas driving about 15,000 miles a year assuming $4 a gallon gas. Subtract the electric cost for charging the EV version, which at $2 a day will be about $700. Think about this, the average driver in America will save about $1,000 a year in gas costs for an additional $20,000 spent on the electric Spark. Taxpayers pay $7,500 in federal EV subsidies (plus state credits) on each vehicle sold so that these savings can be realized. It will take about 20 years to recoup the extra money spent on the electric Spark. Is this making sense to anyone other than ideologues?

I’m sure GM and the media will not let the facts get in the way of the hype. The gas savings will be misrepresented, just as the price has already been, with the amount of gas saved inflated and put in terms of supertanker fulls or craploads or some other such nonsense. Sales can be spurred to promote the hoax by having taxpayer-owned Ally Financial take the hit on lease deals that make the vehicle affordable to some while the taxpayers pay through the back door. More hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars will be lost on the tax subsidies on the vehicles. And all so that a government-owned and managed company can try to convince the masses that plug-in cars and green energy are the answers to America’s energy needs, despite the clear evidence to the contrary as displayed by failures like the Leaf and i-MiEV. That is pitiful.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.