By on October 19, 2011

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…

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23 Comments on “European Market Volt Gets EV-Only “Hold Mode,” Should The US Version?...”

  • avatar

    Do the Europeans get a 7500 dollar bump from the US taxpayer too or do they pay their own way?

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    That makes more sense than the system used in the US Volt

  • avatar
    Jonathan H.

    Could it possibly have something to do with not being able to slap that “93 MPG equivalent” label on the EPA window sticker? Maybe due to some specific wording that would prohibit it because of the separation of functions? I’m sure having that large fuel economy rating on the window helps its green cred quite a bit. More so than seeing 33 MPG in ICE mode and 40 miles in EV mode.

    • 0 avatar

      It all has to do with how GM negotiated the Monroney sticker with the EPA.. and that was one of the EPAs requirements, no “gas mode only” option. If a comnpany does not negotiate (fight) with the EPA then you end up with a Monroney sticker like the Karma will sport, and oodles of bad publicity due to that. I believe the EPA can do other things to manufacturers that do not obey, but I’m not sure what it is.

      GM won a concession from the EPA on the Volt’s “Mountain Mode” switch, and that was included just before release.. GM probably had to prove severe power degradation in some cases to get the exemption.

  • avatar

    How do they know, in Europe, whether you’re running in electric-only mode, to qualify to waive the congestion charge?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul W

      Hahaha, I see what you did there, you tried to apply logic and common sense to decision made by politicians. Hilarious.

      Of course there’s no way to tell, just like there is no way to tell whether you’re filling your tank with biodiesel, which you got a tax credit for when you purchased the car, or plain old petrodiesel, because that happens to be cheaper. Real environmental impact doesn’t matter, what’s important here is that politicians get to pat each other on the back for looking like they’re doing something good.

    • 0 avatar

      Or how about toll lanes that are ‘free’ if you are car-pooling?

  • avatar

    Of course, “The Volt has never been about pure efficiency, it’s a source of psychological satisfaction”.

    But I like this feature. The driver can decide, according to circumstances, which mode he prefers.

    Governments won’t like it, because of the obvious lack of a core nanny feature. Wait, until they find out. Soon, this feature will be banned in Europe, too.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Frankly, I’d prefer a way to custom design a bunch of different modes thru the touchscreen and be able to select them with the drive mode button. So I could have an EV-only mode, a gas-only mode, a pure sport mode that kicks both electric motors on as early as possible (for planetary ‘gear ratio’ reduction), etc.

    Hell, give me an API and toolkit that’ll run on a PC or Mac, and let me upload via the USB port..

    • 0 avatar

      You can buy a vehicle sort of like that today ………. unfortunately they are big trucks. One of the versions of Navistar’s IC line of hybrid school buses is a programable charge depleting. This system allows the vehicle maintenance manager to program when the battery assist will happen. Run the route find the high demand and if equipped with regen braking opportunities for that and program it to arrive at the barn with a depleted battery. If the bus is going on a field trip plug in the laptop and switch it to charge sustaining mode.

    • 0 avatar

      Honda CR-Z has 3 different drive modes.

  • avatar

    The US version does have that same button but it activates a slightly different program and has a different name, mountain mode. Pushing that button makes it run the gas engine when the battery’s SOC drops to 45% and maintains it there or charges it up to that level if it is below that. This is so you have full electric assist when climbing steep grades since the on-board generator’s max output is not as large as the battery’s output.

    It shouldn’t take that long before someone hacks the code and you can choose what ever level you want to hold the battery at.

    It is the EPA’s fault that the US version works the way it does. To get it classified in the emissions tier and bin that GM was shooting for meant that the dirty ICE can’t be used for recharging the battery and that the ICE can’t be fired up until that min recommended SOC is hit, other than in mountain mode.

  • avatar

    What is meant by ” …the Volt’s gas engine gets more involved in “EV mode” than GM had let on.”?

  • avatar

    “Volt’s gas engine gets more involved in “EV mode” than GM had let on.”

    That is incorrect. It should be in extended range mode.

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