Is the Spark Out at Chevrolet?

General Motors used the occasion of the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit to mark the beginning of Chevrolet’s 100th anniversary year, celebrating the event with the launch of a new car. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a special edition Corvette, or even a milestone Malibu, but instead a subcompact called the Sonic.

As the replacement for the Aveo, the sub-$14,000 Sonic will be both the cheapest and smallest Chevrolet when it goes on sale this summer. It wasn’t supposed to be.

Two years ago at the show, the prevailing themes on the stand of recently bailed-out General Motors were austerity and fuel efficiency. There, the company proudly announced plans to introduce a compact, seven-passenger, multi-purpose vehicle named the Orlando in the United States in 2011, along with a microcompact five-door called the Spark. Even smaller than a Mini Cooper, you may know the Spark by its screen name, “Skids,” which is a character featured in the film “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

However, after a production version of the Orlando suspiciously failed to materialize during the 2010 auto show season, in May of that year General Motors announced that it would not be bringing the European-style people carrier to the U.S. market. The company clearly recognized that, as gas prices and the economy stabilized, customers were migrating back toward larger trucks and crossovers.

But what about the Spark?

During an interview on’s Detroit Auto Show special, GM President Mark Reuss was asked if Chevrolet still had plans to bring the Spark to the United States. Reuss said that “we’re going to get in here and fight really hard with the Sonic and see what the market tells us to do.” Referring to selling the Spark, he added that “we have the opportunity to do that if we want to do it, but we haven’t made any decisions on that yet.”

Click to watch our Detroit Auto Show Special

The sentiment is a shift from that of his predecessor as President of GM North America, Troy Clarke, who said in 2009 that “the decision to add the Spark to Chevrolet’s portfolio reflects the brand’s commitment to being a fuel efficiency leader in the industry.”

Given the amount of time it takes to bring a new car to market, even if GM chooses to sell the Spark in the United States it is unlikely that it could do so this year. The vehicle is currently sold under a variety of names in a number of countries ranging from Chile to Uzbekistan.

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Interestingly, it is the Orlando that may yet find life in the American market, or at least something like it. GM CEO Dan Akerson told reporters in Detroit that the company plans to introduce a minivan-type version of the Chevrolet Volt, a vehicle that shares its underlying platform with the Orlando. A concept version of the Orlando fitted with the Volt’s plug-in powertrain was unveiled at the 2010 Beijing Auto Show in China.

At the launch of the Volt last October, when asked Vehicle Line Director Tony Posawatz if additional models were on the way, he said to “keep an eye on the auto shows.”

We always do.

Click for the full interview with Tony Posawatz in our special report "Building the Chevy Volt"