To make their appeal to people from countries where fuel prices exceed those in the U.S. by as much as 50-100-percent, both the Chevrolet Volt and its sister, the production-ready Opel Ampera, are experiencing time under the limelight at the Geneva Motorshow, Mar. 3-13.

The first Volts and Amperas are expected for European delivery on-target by the end of 2011.

The Vauxhall-badged version of the Ampera is also anticipated in the UK, and is slated for consumer delivery there in early 2012. Both it and a right-side-drive Volt will be made available.



Opel Ampera. (Photo courtesy of Opel).

Aside from obvious stylistic cues, the Ampera is nearly identical to the Volt, sharing its powertrain, dimensions, and overall design.

One functional difference that both the European Volt and Ampera feature is a “hold” mode that allows the driver to retain the battery’s charge by switching over to the 1.4 liter generator prior to the battery’s depletion. This could be useful for drivers who opt to save the EV mode for congested low speed areas, or perhaps even in densely populated areas where they wish to be sure to put out zero emissions.

While this innovation is novel, and praised by GM execs, not only will high European and UK fuel prices make it more costly to drive in gas-consuming mode, various iterations of the Volt/Ampera will themselves be commensurately more expensive, in large part because of a 20-percent Value Added Tax (VAT).

Opel, based in Germany, and the property of GM since 1929, is pegging the starting MSRP at about €42,900 (Euros, or in excess of $59,300 depending on exchange rate).


Opel Ampera interior. (Photo courtesy of Opel).

According to Cornelia Harodt, a European Chevrolet spokesperson, the Volt will start at €41,950.

“This will be a high spec car with leather interior and many premium equipment features," Harodt said of the Euro Volt, "We will start sales in November 2011, on time to celebrate 100 years of Chevrolet.”

If you did not know, Chevrolet this year is celebrating its centennial. It was founded in 1911 by Swiss national, Louis Chevrolet.

Fittingly, the first Volts will be sold in Switzerland.

“Besides Switzerland we will sell in a number of European markets, but we have not announced other markets yet,” Harodt said, “We are following closely government discussions on incentives and taxation for environmentally friendly cars. Of course we are working very closely with our country organizations and the dealer network to evaluate the market opportunities accordingly.”



Vauxhall Ampera (Photo courtesy of Vauxhall).

When it becomes available, the UK’s Vauxhall version of the Ampera will reportedly cost about £28,995, (British Pounds, or about $47,300 depending on exchange rate). This price is lower than the Opel Ampera because it factors in a £5,000 government grant allocated to UK buyers.

Yes, instead of a tax credit as is the case in the U.S., in the UK, they are essentially getting a direct discount.

UK car pubs are already predicting UK buyers will account for a majority of the buyers for the first 15,000 European Amperas, which is the number GM Europe President Nick Reilly estimates will be built for the first 12 months.

Reilly has also told the European automotive press he does not foresee Volts stealing sales from Amperas, or vice versa, a sentiment echoed to GM-Volt.com by U.S. GM spokesman, Rob Peterson, who said each brand will appeal to different demographics.

“While they may be in Europe concurrently,” Peterson said of the Volt and Ampera, “they won’t necessarily compete directly against one another.”

Europe-wide, GM has already documented over 3,500 letters of intent for the EREV, and about 1,000 or so refundable deposits at €150 each.



Initially Amperas along with Volts such as this one driven by President Barack Obama with Teri Quiqley, manager for the Detroit-Hamtramck plant in the passenger seat, are coming from U.S. assembly lines. (Photo courtesy of GM).

The first Volts and Amperas will be made in the U.S. at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, but plans for the not-too-distant future are to assemble at least the Ampera if not both in Europe.

A question remains whether the Opel’s sister Vauxhall version of the Ampera will be built in the UK.

That the Volt/Ampera should come to Europe is fitting in a number of ways. First off, it was designed with input by engineers from Saab and Opel. Secondly, it is hoped the economical EREV will be snapped up by people who must pay as high as $8.00 per gallon of gasoline, which is a price it has hit at least in Germany. And a third reason – as important as any – is it is hoped the Volt/Ampera will contribute to GM's financial recovery.

While at least in the near term, GM is undoubtedly banking more heavily on other mass-appeal models such as the new Camaro convertible, Cruze hatchback, Aveo sedan, and others, it is doing all it can to continue a sales rebound in Europe that has been less successful than in the U.S.



Opel Ampera. (Photo courtesy of Opel).

The positive spin is that overall, Chevrolet reports 2010 saw its highest European market share in its history at 2.5 percent. Vauxhall reports this year that within the UK, it's enjoying a "record breaking" 18.85-percent retail market share. In Europe overall, Opel and Vauxhall in 2009 shared around 6.4 percent of the market, and as of this week, Opel and Vauxhall report they are still growing, having increased 2010 market share in 18 out of 27 European countries.

The less-than-exciting news for GM fans is that in 2009, Europe as a whole reportedly bought 16-percent fewer cars, and last week GM disclosed that it lost money in Europe for the 11th year in a row.

Fortunately for GM, following its U.S. bailout, the company found itself with money to reinvest in its European subsidiaries, and saved Opel from a proposed sale of controlling interest in the company to Magna International of Canada.

In light of more successful restructuring in the U.S. and renewed profitability here, GM, while acknowledging serious challenges, is optimistic about European sales – not to mention those on the rise in India, Asia and China.