By Ben Klayman
DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co said it will make an all-electric version of its Chevrolet Spark minicar, taking aim at Nissan Motor Co Ltd's Leaf electric car.
"Chevrolet will produce an all-electric version of the Spark minicar for selected U.S. and global markets, including California," Jim Federico, Chevy's global vehicle chief engineer for electric vehicles, said at the company's Detroit headquarters on Wednesday.
The electric Spark will debut in 2013 and its global rollout will be similar to that of the plug-in electric hybrid Chevy Volt, he said.
The gasoline-powered Spark is now sold only in China, India and South Korea. It is scheduled to be introduced in the United States and other markets next year.
Electric cars have been slow to catch on. In the U.S. market, demand has been held back by the lack of models to choose from, skimpy infrastructure for charging the vehicles, high sticker prices, and low gasoline prices compared with other industrialized nations.
News of the electric Spark comes after an August announcement by GM that it would build a Cadillac ELR luxury electric coupe and continues the company's push to seize the mantle of "greenest automaker in the world" from Nissan and Toyota Motor Corp, which makes the popular Prius hybrid car.
GM, like other major automakers, also needs more fuel-efficient cars as the industry pushes toward more stringent U.S. requirements that will be in place by 2025.
Further details about the electric Spark, including driving range and price, will be released closer to introduction.
The Volt has a 400-pound lithium-ion battery that provides an electric-only range of up to 50 miles. After the battery is depleted, a 1.4-liter gas engine provides power.
Nissan launched the five-passenger Leaf in Japan and the United States in December 2010. The vehicle has an EPA-certified driving range of 73 miles.
Leaf's U.S. sales through September were about 27,500, seven times higher than the larger Volt. The Leaf's U.S. price starts at $32,780 before a $7,500 federal tax credit.
Chevy's Federico declined to say where the electric Spark will be built, but the gas version is currently assembled in South Korea. A new version of the gas-powered Spark will debut next year.
The Volt was launched in select cities and states in the U.S. market and is now available in other markets and countries.
GM Chief Executive Daniel Akerson has driven the company more aggressively toward electric vehicles since taking the top job about a year ago.
The U.S. automaker's push under Akerson has centered on rolling out plug-in hybrid technology in a broader range of vehicles to recoup its investment in the money-losing Volt. By using its electric-vehicle technology in more cars, GM could reap more profits and drive down the technology's cost.
A123 Systems Inc will provide the lithium-ion battery for the electric Spark, Federico said.
In August, GM said it had awarded A123 a contract to build battery packs for future electric vehicles, but it did not say which vehicles would use the batteries.
Sources told Reuters that GM executives were studying plans for an all-electric small car for the Chevy brand that included an A123 battery.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit)