Opel not tilting at windmills
The stylish and well-built Ampera aims to be the electric car that dispels any range anxiety, writes Campbell Spray
THERE was a lot of passion, an abundance of technical detail and a fair sprinkling of optimism as Opel launched its Ampera in The Hague recently.
If the car was just an attempt by Opel to break into the premium executive four-door coupe market, you would have said "close but no cigar, put your pretension back in your box and concentrate on the mass market which you know so well".
However, this very stylish and well-built car is much, much more than that. It aims to be the electric vehicle that really answers the "range anxiety" question which is dogging the whole EV launch.
The Ampera not only has a large battery on board which gives a range of around 60kmh and will recharge in about four hours but also includes a fairly substantial petrol engine as well. However, the latter unit doesn't drive the wheels itself when it kicks in after the batteries have been depleted but powers an electric generator to extend the vehicle's range. The Ampera's regenerative braking also contributes to the on-board electricity generation. In electric mode, the Ampera gives nigh on 100mpg equivalent -- with the petrol unit going, it is about 40mpg -- so an average 60mpg is expected if there is a lot of long-distance driving.
The Ampera has been on sale since the beginning of the year in the US as the Chevrolet Colt and is the most fuel-efficient compact car sold there, as rated by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Of course, with all EVs that plug into the mains or on street chargers, the ideal is to just do that 50 or so kilometres a day and recharge overnight. However, not everyone can plan their lives that way and with an overall range of some 500km, the Ampera does remove the famous 'anxiety'.
Yet peace of mind does not come cheap and the main drawback to the success of the Ampera is likely to be its price of at least €42,900 before taxes which has been set throughout Europe when it goes on sale next year. This puts it into the same band as the BMW 520D, after taxes have been applied, with all its prestige, great economy and attractiveness.
Few, unless they are massively incentivised, are going to opt for Ampera, however well it is fitted out, as opposed to the BMW which, at a push, can take five people and a load of luggage. The Opel Ampera is restricted to four seats and the boot suffers at the expense of the battery.
The Ampera, because of the batteries and the petrol engine, is a heavy beast and feels it, yet it is so comfortable and well-equipped that motorway driving is a dream. But that's not really what an EV is about. The designers have given it a sporty and modern look and it definitely adds another dimension to the electric debate. But at quite a price.
Fresh from its great success under the scrappage scheme, Renault is aiming to take the electric market by the scruff of the neck next year, with four models in 12 months. The first passenger car will be the four-door Fluence ZE which, at €21,620 on the road after the Government grant of €5,000, undercuts everything else massively. It is the same price as the Fluence diesel, which is very well-specced but the overall design seems a bit dated. The range between recharging is up to 185km but is more likely to be around 120 when you are using all the creature comforts on board. In addition, there is a separate battery lease contract from €79 per month.
The first electric vehicle to be launched by Renault is the Kangoo ZE mini-van in November followed by the four-door saloon Fluence ZE in early 2012. Also in 2012 it will launch the Twizy, an urban two-seater quadricycle and the ZOE, a compact hatch.