July 27, 2013 – Vol.18 No.19
ELECTRIC CAR DREAMS: A MOKKA EV?
With not much R&D, Buick's Encore (aka Opel/Vauxhall Mokka) could become GM's next electric vehicle.
Deep in the smoke-filled garages of its top-secret skunk works, The General is developing a next generation electric vehicle: You can bet on that. Car companies are always two steps ahead of themselves. The next generation car or truck needs to be ready to go as the old one is ready to retire.
The next EV may be another extended range car like the Volt, with its gas engine on board, or maybe it's an all-electric like the just-launched Spark EV. Or maybe it's something a little different. There's no way of knowing unless there's an Ed Snowden on staff slinking around willing to leak General Motors' best kept secrets to the world.
From GM, there's only been a hint of what's next in its electric drive offerings: It will be cheaper than the Volt. By thousands. We just don't know how many thousands.
But, it's always fun to dream and surmise. We can always look at what they have and speculate.
For instance, there are three GM products available in the US built on the company's GSV (Global Small Vehicle) platform; Chevy's Sonic and Spark and Buick's Encore mini-crossover. The platform, being global as the name says, is also used for more than a half dozen other models around the world, which the US doesn't see. What's interesting about the platform is how versatile it is. Mostly it's used for small hatchbacks like the Sonic 5 door and Spark, but there's a good sedan in there too (the Chevy Sonic sedan), as well as a small multipurpose vehicle (MPV) and, of course, the Buick Encore which began life in Europe as the Opel/Vauxhall Mokka with a similar vehicle available north of the US border, the Chevy Trax.
And, it's not just the varieties of body styles that will fit the platform, but also what will fit under the hood. There are variety three and four cylinder gas engines, with or without turbo chargers, and a few diesels scattered about. Now there's also now an electric motor with a battery stuck under the back seat as in the Spark EV. With that electric drive, now we know why its called what it is: Let's hope there are no sparks under the Spark EV's hood.
So far the with it's relatively low cost, its tire-burning 400 pound feet of torque, range better than a LEAF or Ford Focus Electric, and soon to be available with 20 minute charging (to 80 percent), the Spark EV is getting rave reviews. Too bad only California and Oregon will get it, as well as Canada, South Korea and few select European markets.
Elsewhere on the GSV platform Buick's diminutive Encore crossover is also getting very good reviews for handling, comfort, build quality and fuel economy. But all reviewers have the same question. What's it doing here? It's about the smallest CUV on the market (it's about the length of a VW New Beetle or first and second generation Toyota RAV4s) and it's being sold by a division known more for quiet luxury for established people rather than a jaunty runabout for younger sets.
This of course is a stretch, but it could be that the General is beta testing both cars: The EV drive train in the Spark and market acceptance of the new body type. (Not really so new by the way. The Mokka, Trax, and Encore trio are much like the early RAV4s which were wildly popular. About a third of the RAV4 EVs sold are still with us.)
It wouldn't be hard for the mechanics back at the skunk works to fit the Spark electric drive and battery into an Encore and give the Buick brand an EV to sell. To make it more Volt-like GM could offer a range extending gas engine as a option. And pricing for such a hypothetical vehicle vehicle? Oh say $32,500, with some bells and whistles, making it $5000 above the Spark EV and with tax credits $25,000, or in California $23,000. At that price it would compete with a mid-range Nissan LEAF, but be a more appealing package as a crossover, not a little hatchback.
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