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General Motors Raises Its Ante on Electric Cars

• Jessica Leber via TechnologyReview.com

The Chevrolet Spark EV isn’t General Motors’ first pure electric vehicle—that would be the EV1, which was quashed in 2003. But this time around, GM is more serious about these vehicles.  

GM showed off the battery-powered car and let journalists make test drives this week prior to its debut November 28 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Compact, powerful, and easy to maneuver, the Spark EV looks like a good next step for GM into plug-in vehicles. However, its price has yet to be revealed. That will be crucial, because there has been limited demand for costly electric cars that can’t go long distances without being recharged.

The Spark joins a list of all-electric cars that includes the Nissan Leaf, the Ford Focus Electric, and Tesla’s Model S. Sales of these plug-in electric vehicles, as well as electric-and-gas models like the Chevy Volt, are important not only for the carmakers, but also to establish markets for advanced battery technologies and battery charging infrastructure. 

By 2017, GM wants to build as many as 500,000 cars a year with electrification technologies, said Mary Barra, senior vice president for global product development. That’s not trivial, considering that today GM sells nine million vehicles annually. In addition to the Spark EV, which will begin with small production runs for limited U.S. and Korean markets, GM plans to make plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt and cars with “eAssist technology,” which is a form of hybrid technology. However, Barra says, GM will focus mainly on developing plug-in technologies rather than the traditional gasoline engine hybrids, where Toyota and Ford have made larger investments. 

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