Okay, technically speaking, the Chevrolet Volt was one of two cars honored as the Car of the Year 2012 across the pond, but since the other was the Opel Ampera—essentially the Opel-ized version of the Volt—it still represents a notable recognition for GM’s extended-range electric-vehicle technologies. The award is akin to the North American Car of the Year prize, which the Volt took home in 2011, even to the point where it now signals the kickoff of a major auto show—in this case, the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland.
Voting for the award was done by some 59 automotive journalists from throughout Europe, who evaluated seven finalists based on criteria such as innovation, value, safety, quality, design and environmental impact. And with the other finalists including standout entries like the Ford Focus, Range Rover Evoque, Volkswagen Up!, and Citroën DS 5, Fiat Panda and the redesigned European Toyota Yaris, it’s clear that the Volt/Ampera won for more than just its unique propulsion system.
“A Car of the Year has to show excellence in a number of categories—with special attention to the needs of consumers,” according to Hakan Matson, president of the judging panel and also the automotive expert for Dagens Industri, a leading Swedish business publication. “All the members of our jury are experts and put the finalists through a series of exhaustive tests to provide substantial purchasing criteria for consumers.”?
Of course, that being said, Matson went on to note that the cars’ approach to saving fuel was what closed the deal: “The Opel Ampera and its counterpart, the Chevrolet Volt, won in a field of strong competitors, particularly on account of the outstanding technical progress they reflect. With its range extender the Ampera presents a very sound new concept on our way to e-mobility. By solving the problem of range anxiety, it is a remarkable step into the future of electrification.”
Now, this kind of love for the Volt (and Ampera) may seem surprising to U.S. industry observers, especially given the news that GM is halting Volt production to allow sales to catch up with dealer inventory. But European drivers have had to deal with much higher fuel prices, for a much longer time, and have been much quicker to explore new gas-saving technologies. Today, as fuel prices in this country have topped $5 per gallon in some places, renewed interest in the Volt should build quickly.
After all, the Volt does offer a driving range of up to 40 miles on electricity alone, at an EPA rate of 94 MPGe in combined driving. Then, if battery levels run low, the Volt’s range-extending, gasoline-powered I4 engine kicks in—even if the car is driving through a tunnel—to provide another +340 miles worth of driving at an EPA-certified 35 mpg city/40 mpg highway/37 mpg combined.
And unlike the Nissan LEAF, the Volt is available at a slightly lower MSRP for 2012 and is now eligible for some high-profile benefits in California. The starting price of the current model has slipped to $39,145, and that comes down to $31,645 after applying a $7,500 federal tax credit; for Golden Staters, the Volt also currently qualifies for an additional $1,500 state rebate, as well as single-occupant access to California’s car-pool lanes.
GM has handled that pesky fire problem with NHTSA, too—and don’t forget, the Volt earned an overall 5-star safety rating from the agency just before that whole combustion kerfuffle occurred.
The bottom line here: No one really expected EVs to succeed when gas prices were low, but as fuel costs go up, so should sales of the award-winning Chevrolet Volt.