When Mike and I were driving the Chevy Volt from NYC to Detroit, we got to spend a significant amount of time with the engineer’s behind the development of the Volt. One of the questions we asked was, “what are the differences between the Chevy Volt and the EU-Market Opel Ampera?” Aside from cosmetic and EU safety regulation changes, the biggest difference was described as a selector switch, which would allow Ampera drivers to manually change between gasoline generator power and battery power.
In the EU and the UK, many cities tax or regulate vehicles by their hydrocarbon or CO emissions. For markets like this, it makes sense to have an Ampera that can be driven to the city using the gasoline powered generator, then manually switched to battery power for in-city, zero emission driving. The selector switch would simply allow the Ampera driver to dictate when the car switched to battery power, as opposed to the car switching automatically when the batteries are depleted. Since there are no cities in the US that regulate (or tax) traffic based on emissions or fuel economy, such a feature was seen as an unnecessary expense on U.S. Volt models.
Despite the hysteria surrounding this latest revelation on the Volt, there’s nothing sinister or sleight-of-hand about it; if there was an advantage to manually choosing battery or gasoline generator power in U.S. cars, we’d get the feature as well.