NEW YORK – Sales of the new Chevrolet Spark are heating up in the U.S. as the subcompact car pushes past the 2,000-unit mark in its first month of limited distribution.

Since its global launch in 2009, the Spark has delivered more than 600,000 units in 80 countries.

The Spark was introduced to the U.S. on July 19 in only 18 cities, but already is gaining sales momentum. However, Jim Federico, Chevrolet’s global executive director-compact and mini vehicles, among other responsibilities, declines to forecast total market volume for the car’s first year.

The U.S. model was designed and is manufactured at General Motors’ Bupyeong plant in South Korea. A version of the Spark also is built in India, where capacity for the model, sold as the Beat, is 100,000 units annually. The car’s manual and automatic transmissions are GM designs that are produced in Asia.

GM also assembles the Spark from complete-knocked-down kits in Colombia, South Africa, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The amount of local content in the kits varies according to regional requirements and tax laws. In most markets, the Spark is equipped with a 1.2L engine. For the U.S. model, the displacement has been increased 4% to 1.25L.

The Korean plant has a nominal annual capacity of 200,000 units of the Spark. “We're not a huge impact on Korean (output) right now,” says Christi Landy, the Spark's marketing director, at a media event here. “We're a small piece of their output.”

The Spark is available in cities that in addition to New York include Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta, Tampa, Orlando, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, OR. Its immediate competitors are the Scion iQ and Fiat 500.

The minicar comes in three trim levels. Federico forecasts the 1LT model, with a starting price of $14,500, will capture 55% of sales; the base LS (12,995), about 30%; and 2LT ($15,500), about 15%.

Overall average transaction price will be about $14,000, he predicts. That's $3,000 less than Spark's key competition, he claims. The Spark also has another big advantage over the Fiat 500, as its 1.25L engine uses regular fuel, while the 500 requires premium gasoline.

Federico estimates that as many as 30% of U.S. buyers could opt for manual transmissions. That's an extremely high take rate for the U.S. market, which customarily accounts for more than 90% of automatic transmissions.

Despite its tiny size, the Spark is not the fuel-economy leader for Chevrolet. That honor is held by the Eco Cruze, which has a combined 42 mpg (5.6 L/100 km) Environmental Protection Agency rating. The Spark is rated at a combined 34 mpg (6.9 L/100 km).

Federico says the lower fuel economy is because the Spark has a relatively high profile for its size and is not an aerodynamic design because the goal was to maximize interior passenger and cargo space. The fuel tank has a 9.2 gallon (35 L) capacity.

Early sales of the Spark reveal 30% of buyers are trading in a non-GM vehicle, considered an exceptional conquest rate. Landy says the Spark is a good alternative for buyers who usually purchase used cars, noting used cars are in relatively short supply these days.

She expects the Spark will achieve mostly incremental sales for Chevrolet and not cannibalize other models. “The timing for the Spark is right now, with fuel-economy (issues) and the overall state of the economy.”

Chevy isn’t expecting Spark buyers to spend a lot of money personalizing their vehicles. “There are very few buyers who would spend thousands of dollars to personalize the Spark,” Landy says.