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USA: Will California be a Game-Changer for the Chevy Volt?

GM is hoping new carpool incentives and a green focus will boost Volt sales in the Golden State

When General Motors CEO Dan Akerson was in San Francisco last week, I spoke to him about the five-week long suspension of the Chevy Volt production — and why he thinks the re-launch of the new-generation Volt could be a winner in California.

The Golden State accounts for one-in-four sales of the Volt, the plug-in hybrid made by General Motors. The car offers a potential solution to the “range anxiety” hurdle many would-be EV buyers face; but to gain traction against rivals like the Toyota Prius hybrid and the all-electric Nissan Leaf, it still has to surmount its red-hot price and fiery reputation.

Akerson says the new Volt qualifies for California’s HOV lane status and a $1,500 state rebate, thanks to changes in the combustion configuration of the engine. The new Volt will have an additional emissions system fan to reduce tailpipe emissions and Akerson anticipates that the average 36 minutes a day that commuters save by using the carpool lane will deliver an effective “California twist” to the vehicle’s marketability here.

California has a total of 1,400 miles of high-occupancy vehicle lanes for carpoolers and drivers of zero-emission cars like the Nissan Leaf, and advanced-battery cars like the new Volt. Akerson confirmed that GM’s flagship green car has already begun shipping here in limited quantities and will arrive in other states in the next 30-to-60 days.

To what does Akerson attribute the Volt’s relative popularity in California? The state’s superior EV infrastructure is an important factor. On a recent visit to Silicon Valley he was surprised to see so many charging stations in high-tech company parking lots. “You don’t see that in every city in America,” he said. “It’s forward-looking.”
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