What Happened to the Chevy Spark at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show


In one of the untold stories of the 2009 Detroit auto show, General Motors inadvertently confused millions of TV viewers, car enthusiasts and even automotive journalists. It all started with a glowing series of segments on NBC’s Today Show last week.

During an interview with Matt Lauer — which you can watch here — GM executive Ed Welburn revealed the front end of an all new subcompact car that he said the company would reveal at the Detroit auto show on Sunday. Lauer repeated that it was a big deal that he couldn’t pull off the rest of the tarp or he’d get in trouble. Websites all over, including this one, concluded that it was the production version of the Beat subcompact that had debuted as a concept two years earlier.

GM didn't deny the reports once they hit hugely popular enthusiast sites like Jalopnik.com. Come Sunday, though, GM rolled out … the exact same 2007 Beat concept car it had showed two years ago — not a production version — in a rolling parade onto its stage for the company's press conference. On GM's media website, it released one lone image of the production vehicle, now called Spark, along with a formal announcement that the Spark would go on sale in the U.S. in 2011.

It took repeated calls with GM’s communications department to even have the company acknowledge that what was under the tarp on TV and what was on stage were different vehicles — and to those who do this for a living, it was clear they were different.

Finally, word came from GM Global Communications Department’s Klaus-Peter Martin. The car underneath the tarp on TV was a foam model of the production Spark. Because there wasn’t a working prototype to roll in the parade, the company used the Beat concept instead because it was similar to the production car that's in the works.

Martin says any misunderstanding was unintentional, and that the company had always intended to reveal the production Spark in Geneva. The only rolling prototype of the Spark just arrived stateside to be prepared for the March show in Geneva. Hopefully GM can get it ready in time so we won’t get another tease.



I find it amusing that because you guys guessed wrong that this must be in some way a big conspiracy.

You know, a honest guy would have pulled back the tarp and said,

"Hey! This isn't even a real car! What the! It's an oldie. And it's foam! What the! Dude, where's my car?"

And all would have been forgiven, forgotten.

Sneakiness seems to run in some folks veins, though. Not a good tactic in the age of transparency, the blog age.

If someone says on national television that "This car will debut in Detroit" then I think the millions of people watching would conclude that the car will debut in detroit, including us. We accurately could tell it had production elements in it and it was the basis of their press photo of the production Spark.

We didn't actually get anything wrong.

didn't know foam could look so real....

didn't know foam could look so real...

The underbody is foam. they fabricate an exterior to look like a real car.


DT, I dont Welburn or Lauer actually says that THIS car will debut in Detroit as you've quoted. Welburn says "we're bringing it to the Detroit show and we'll talk more about it there". Most folks would infer that the car would be there, but it's not exactly a commitment either.

Automakers routinely show concept cars for production announcements. Half the time, the cars shown as production reveals are only mock-ups, hand-glued prototypes or European-spec models.

The GM press materials were clear on the fact that this was an "announcement". In fact it even says that the Spark will have a World Debut in Geneva (leaving the door open for a NA debut in NY).

For a publication that prides itself on cutting through the automakers hype, it's amusing to see you get caught up in the blogosphere hype and the automakers feeble attempts for PR.

anon that doesn't work for GM

anon - how long have you worked for GM's PR dept.?

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