The New People’s Car?
Last night I wrote an article detailing the history and the significance of the Volkswagen Beetle – the original “People’s Car”. This morning, after much waving of hands and stroking of chins – I deleted it because it was terrible.
Basically all you need to know is that the VW Beetle was a car designed for anyone and everyone. This is why it stayed in production for over half a century. Alas (and thankfully), in 2003 the original Beetle was put out of production/misery, after manufacturing over 21 million units. This leaves a gap in the market. Who will replace the venerable Beetle?
Introducing the 2013 Chevrolet Spark Hatchback.
The Volkswagen Beetle sold so well for four simple reasons. It was cheap, practical, durable, and affectionately stylish. For the Spark to take the reins as the “New People’s Car”, it must do all four… and then some.
Price. The hatchback market is a wash of different flavors of the same recipe. So what do you really get? The only real variation is in the body (3 or 5 door) and performance, but since we’re interested in a car that gets everyday people from A to B at a pace faster than walking… we’ll focus on body design. In a comparison with 6 other popular hatchbacks (Yaris, Fiesta, Accent, Golf, Versa, and Rio) the Chevrolet is the cheapest in lowest spec models. So cheap in fact that the top spec 2LT version is only $400 more than the base Ford Fiesta, and a whopping $6000 cheaper than the base VW Golf. For the price, the people choose Spark.
Practicality. The highlight is that even on the base model (for $12,185) you still get 5 doors. To get a Yaris with 5 doors expect to pay about $2500 more. And if you wanted your Yaris to have the preferable 5-speed… get ready – nearly $4500 more than the Spark! Now, the rear legroom looks slightly dismal in the Spark, and the hatchback seems like enough space for one package of bacon and maybe a crepe – but we’re told that with both rear seats down the Spark is good for 31.2 cubic feet of storage space. Not bad! For practicality, the people choose Spark!
Durability. This has yet to be seen. It’s been a long time since “durable” and “American-made” were in the same sentence as “car”, but times are changing. GM and Chrysler have shed some weight in the past few years and consumer reports are on the rise. Maybe such classics as Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, Sebring, and GM’s Aztek are still too familiar in my memory. As for assumptions – well, the engine is a microscopic 1.2L 4-cylinder that develops 85 hp/82 ft-lbs of torque and an impressive 32 mpg in the city, and 38 on the highway. I’d bet my savings that this powerplant won’t be very sporty but should be as reliable as any offerings from Toyota or Honda. Designed by Opel, the engine features dual overhead cams and – thank god – a timing chain! These are good signs, we likey. The not so good… the block is iron and the head is aluminum. Most manufacturers (including Toyota and Ford) are going for all-aluminum engines to save weight. But this is a people’s car, so we shouldn’t care about that. For durability, the people will wait and see.
Style. While it may not be your Friday night fancy, it’s certainly a good-looking car. Proportions are right, the fascia is tight and “happy” (but not Mazda “happy”), and would you look at those alloy wheels! This car does something strange, it lives perfectly in its time but has a sense of ambiguity as well. Today we can tell this car is stylish in 2013, but my hunch is that in 2023 the looks will still be refreshing. That’s something important in a people’s car. Look back to the Beetle – it had to look good for over 60 years. For style, the people choose Spark!
What do you think?