In an era of increasingly-globalized automobiles, the “market-to-market adjustments” which modify a global vehicle to “local tastes” are becoming an interesting source of insight into a company’s perspective. And Chevrolet Europe boss Wayne Brannon revealed one of the more significant adjustments in recent memory (because nobody reads the press releases), when he told Automotive News [sub]’s Dave Guilford
I just switch it into extended range mode, and I drive on fuel until I get there. When I drive in the little villages and towns, I drive in electric mode.
The reason it was important here is we have cities — like London — where you don’t have to pay a congestion charge if you’re running purely on battery. You save the battery for when you need it.
Gosh, that’s an interesting idea. It would certainly help clear up some of the confusion in the marketplace about why the Chevy Volt is the way it is. Imagine the tagline: “Gas or electric? You decide.” So, how about it, GM? Will that feature come to the US?
According to GM’s Volt spokesman Rob Peterson,
There are no plans to add this feature in the U.S., as regulations require the vehicle to operate in its most fuel-efficient/ lowest emission mode first.
But as Guilford points out, Fisker’s Karma can switch between all-EV and range-extended modes (more on the Karma’s efficiency shortly)… and the EPA can’t think of any reason why GM couldn’t include this mode. The problem, it seems, is that it would lower the Volt’s already weak-for-a-green-halo-car range-extended efficiency. European fuel economy numbers for the Volt aren’t yet available to confirm that theory, but Chevrolet Europe claims “over” 500 km from the Volt’s 9.3 gallon gas tank, working to about 7 l/100 km, or 33.4 MPG. That seems roughly in line with EPA numbers, but even when official European numbers are released, differences in testing methods will make apples-to-apples comparisons difficult.
At its heart, the Volt is a car that appeals to an emotional conundrum: the desire for gas-free driving without the range limitations of EVs. Instead of relying on computers to continually adjust the gas-electric mix as a Prius does, it empowers drivers to use it as efficiently as possible, plugging in as often as possible. And yet, as this European-market feature reminds us, that uncoupling of pure-EV and gas-dependent modes is actually an illusion. This reality, along with a grandstanding media culture, explains why so many people freaked out when they found out that the Volt’s gas engine gets more involved in “EV mode” than GM had let on.
Here’s the point: nobody is going to change their mind about the Volt over a few range-extended mode MPGs. But giving the power of pure-EV driving (or not) to consumers can’t help but help the Volt’s marketing effort with the “I want an EV, sort of” crowd. The Volt has never been about pure efficiency, it’s a source of psychological satisfaction. The choice of gas or electric power seems to play right into that positioning. And now we know it’s possible. Over to you, GM…