Still can't decide whether to buy the Chevy Volt PHEV when it goes on sale later this year? GM is offering a unique feature to entice customers that are skeptical of the EV's potential performance: Mountain Mode--an option for drivers who know that they are about to climb a big hill.
The Mountain Mode option gathers an energy reserve in the lithium-ion battery so that the car has the full power of both the gasoline engine and the electric powertrain behind it for, say, navigating a series of San Francisco inclines. If a Volt is climbing thousands of feet at high speeds, Mountain Mode can also run the engine at a higher speed to deliver maximum output. The latter feature requires that drivers select Mountain Mode relatively far in advance so that the car has time to gather electric battery reserves.
Mountain Mode isn't perfect. All Cars Electric tells us  that GM's executive director of powertrain engineering Larry Nitz revealed in a conference call today that some especially tough hills could degrade vehicle performance even if Mountain Mode is turned on. The feature could also affect range and fuel economy, although GM declines to disclose the exact numbers.
Nevertheless, this is probably just one of many vehicle features that will be introduced to make EVs feel more like gasoline-powered cars. Expect to see other carmakers introduce Mountain Mode-like options as EVs gain in popularity.