Pull off the very different bumpers, grille and badges from the Chevrolet Volt and Opel/Vauxhall Ampera, and you’d be hard pressed to tell the two cars apart. Made on the same Detroit production line, the Volt and Ampera are essentially the same car wearing different clothes.
In North America, only the Chevy Volt is available to buy, while in Europe, the Opel(Vauxhall) Ampera is the vehicle of choice for most buyers. But in some European countries, it’s possible to buy either a Volt or an Ampera. Given both car’s identical innards, you’d be forgiven for assuming that in countries where both vehicles are sold, dealers would be capable of working on either variant of GM’s plug-in.
But as Transport Evolved discovered earlier today, each marque has its own dedicated service approval process. The result is that Chevrolet dealers can’t service Amperas, and Opel dealers can’t service Volts — unless each has specific certification to do so.
Limited dealer network
We made the shocking discovery this morning while trying to make a first service booking for our own Transport Evolved Chevrolet Volt: a six-month old car with just over 9,000 miles on the clock. After recent flooding here in the U.K., the Volt’s service light had come on following a commute on waterlogged roads.
We decided it needed to be given a checkup.
Before we go any further, we should note that the UK has literally only a handful of Chevrolet dealers who are certified to sell and work on a Chevrolet Volt. But given its similarity to the Ampera, we also made the foolish assumption that in an emergency, we could head to any authorised Ampera dealer for help.
So, since we preferred the Volt’s looks to its European cousin — and because it was slightly cheaper — we travelled the 200 or so miles to pick up our car. Having confirmed the presence of an Ampera dealer in a nearby town, we didn’t worry too much about what would happen when a dealer visit was needed.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
“We’d love to, but…”
“We’re really sorry,” said the first Vauxhall dealer we called. “We’d love to service your Volt, but we’re not certified by Chevrolet to do so. We’d get in trouble — and possibly void your Volt’s warranty — if we did.”
The dealer’s service assistant was more than apologetic. “We know it’s the same car inside, but we just can’t help you,” she said. “But if you like, we’ll contact Chevrolet on your behalf and find a local dealer.”
Every other Ampera dealer we tried said the same thing: only Ampera branded cars could be officially serviced. When we finally found a Volt dealer who would service the car — a new one having opened up just 65 miles away — we were told that they had the same policy for Amperas.
“It’s madness,” we were told. “But we just aren’t allowed to work on Amperas. We’ve had quite a few frustrated potential customers as a result.”
While Chevrolet, Vauxhall and Opel are all part of the same General Motors family, each brand has its own set of engineering requirements for its vehicles. When a new vehicle is launched, each franchised dealer must have its service staff certified by its chosen automaker as having successfully completed the required service course needed to earn the essential ‘official service centre’ title.
At some point in the past, marque-specific service qualifications were less of an issue. But in the world of plug-in cars, dealers who don’t have specific training can risk all manner of problems if they work on a car they’re not certified to service.
This can mean anything from struggling to find replacement parts and workshop diagnostics equipment to potentially voiding the warranty on a customer’s car. In short, the risk is perceived as being too great.
A sage warning
At the end of last year, Chevrolet announced its decision to pull out of the European market for good, selling just the plug-in Ampera in European countries. Existing service centres, we were told, would continue to provide repair and aftersales service to existing customers. But for those without an existing relationship with the few authorised service providers, we envisage a future where existing Volt owners will struggle to find a place for service.
For our own vehicle, we’ve been lucky: a booking has been made at a Volt-qualified dealer for Saturday. But if you’re in Europe and thinking of buying a Volt, make sure you’re near somewhere that’s happy to service it before you agree on the sale.
Otherwise, you may find those trips to the dealer more than a little tedious. You have been warned.
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