Feb 23 (Reuters) - General Motors Co is adjusting its plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt to meet strict California requirements for a $1,500 state rebate and allow drivers to use special carpool lanes there, the carmaker said on Thursday.
Volts sold in California starting later this month will have an additional emissions system fan to help curb tailpipe emissions and some software changes not available on Volts sold outside California, GM said.
The change comes at a time when Volt sales have been slow for a car seen as a game-changer for GM. California is the biggest U.S. auto market in general, and the biggest market for alternative fuel vehicles.
A fourth of the 7,671 Volts GM sold in 2011 were sold in California.
GM said that it did not include the additional equipment for California Volts until now because it did not want to delay the vehicle's launch. Sales began in December 2010.
California has 1,400 miles of roads with lanes designated for cars carrying two or more people. Volt drivers along with drivers of other advanced-battery and zero-emissions cars can use these lanes even if the cars are carrying only the driver.
GM says that cars on congested Southern California roads that use the high-occupany vehicle lanes can save about 36 minutes a day in commuting time.
The ability to drive in the "HOV lanes" in California was a boost to sales of the Prius hybrid when Toyota Motor Corp ramped up sales of the market's dominant hybrid car. But standard hybrids like the Prius are no longer eligible for special stickers to allow access to HOV lanes for cars without passengers.
Toyota will next month begin selling a plug-in Prius that will get about 15 miles on battery charge alone.
This new version of the Prius will be eligible for the $1,500 California rebate and the HOV lane stickers.
California plans to issue up to 40,000 HOV lane stickers in 2012.
GM said that single-occupancy Volts are also eligible for access to carpool lanes in New York, Florida and Georgia.
GM is not saying how much it will cost to add the new equipment to each California Volt. The costs will not be passed onto the customers because GM wants a national sales price for the Volt, a spokesman said.
The Volt retails at $39,900 before a $7,500 federal tax credit and the $1,500 California rebate.
GM lowered the retail price of the Volt from $41,500 on its 2012 models.
Shipments of the "low emissions package" Volts started last week from GM's Detroit-Hamtrack plant.
The Volt operates for about 35 miles on battery power when fully charged. Under this mode, there are no tailpipe emissions. When battery power is low, a gasoline engine powers a generator that creates power to run the electric engine, allowing the Volt to have a range of about 380 miles, based on U.S. government estimates.