So far, the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car has been sold only in North America.

That's about to change, as the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant restarts after a month of retooling that raised Volt production capacity to 5,000 cars per month.

While the Volt will go to China (despite recent changes to that country's plug-in car incentives that disqualify the Volt), it will also be exported to Europe. But most Europeans won't be buying a Chevrolet Volt.

10,000 Amperas throughout Europe

Instead, starting this November, GM Europe plans to sell up to 6,000 Volts next year under the Opel Ampera name, and another 4,000 in the U.K. as the Vauxhall Ampera. (Vauxhall is the historic English brand under which all Opels are sold in the British Isles.)

2012 Opel Ampera, first pre-production vehicle, April 2010

2012 Opel Ampera, first pre-production vehicle, April 2010

What's an Opel/Vauxhall Ampera? You could think of it as a Volt with a nose job, though there are some other differences as well.

With small, fuel-efficient turobdiesels taking half the European new-car market on average (it varies from country to country), the pricey Ampera could prove a tough sell.

But as Opel's first mass-produced plug-in vehicle, the Ampera will also serve a halo car for the Opel and Vauxhall brands.

The European price of a 2012 Opel Ampera will be 42,900 euros (roughly $61,200 at today's exchange rate, against a U.S. base price of $39,995 for the slightly decontented 2012 Volt). The U.K. price will be £33,995 (roughly $55,600) before a £5,000 incentive.

Chevies and Opels and Vauxhalls, oh my!

Opel Ampera

Opel Ampera

Confusingly, however, GM Europe also plan to sell a further 2,000 Chevy Volts through its growing network of Chevrolet dealers.

In Europe, the Chevrolet brand stands for cheap, basic transportation, and commentators have puzzled over how exactly the Volt fits into that brand image.

The explanation may lie in a comment by Reilly that the Ampera will target government agencies and business fleets, a market where Opel and Vauxhall are traditionally strong. Retail buyers, he said, may be more likely to buy the Chevrolet-branded Volt.

European production

2011 Chevrolet Volt outside Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant

2011 Chevrolet Volt outside Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant

Ultimately, the Ampera (or Volt) could be produced in Europe as well as Detroit, according to GM Europe CEO Nick Reilly.

He said that decision won't be made until the second-generation Volt arrives in 2015,

Three factories are being considered, in England, Germany, and Poland, Reilly said. But he suggested the final decision on production won't be made until 2013.

[Automotive News; Automotive News (requires subscription)]


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