Is the Ampera any more than a Volt with a nose job?

17 April 2011

Vauxhall/Opel Ampera from the front

I recently grabbed a quick chat with Enno Fuchs, the man charged with launching the Vauxhall/Opel Ampera range-extended electric car onto the market in Europe. He’s a very likeable chap with an earthy turn of phrase that I doubt his PR people are too happy about. Here’s what we talked about:

Me: Here in Europe we will be offered both the Chevrolet Volt and the Vauxhall/Opel Ampera. The Ampera appears to be a Volt with a nose job and a badge transplant. What would you say are the main differences between the Chevy and the Opel?

Enno Fuchs

Enno Fuchs: The differences are brand related: obviously there’s an optical difference, but there will also be less obvious changes such as the driving dynamics. The core is shared, of course. There will also be a price difference, and different warranties – Chevrolet will offer an eight-year guarantee on the battery and a 12-year corrosion warranty, while Vauxhall will offer its lifetime warranty, where you can feel safe knowing that everything is covered if the shit hits the fan.

Me: The Ampera is heavily based on a car designed for the US market. Isn’t that going to mean the car is compromised from the outset in terms of European needs and tastes?

EF: I would not agree that either the Volt or Ampera was aimed solely at US market tastes. American cars are usually much bigger. It’s also a five-door hatch, rather than a four-door with a boot.

Me: We’ve recently seen Toyota unveil the Prius+ MPV – will we see a larger car based on the Ampera’s Voltec platform here in Europe?

EF: It’s too early to say. We are monitoring the market before we make any firm commitments. But we certainly will have smaller electric cars and much bigger sized cars. We have been working on fuel-cell technology as the most likely future powerplant for SUVs. We also expect to have hybrids in virtually all segments, using both diesel and petrol engines.

Ampera from the rear

Me: With an engine, two drive motors and a 16kWh battery pack, Ampera is a hefty car. Are you working on lightweight materials to trim the kerb weight of future range-extended electric cars?

EF: Lightweight materials are not just for EVs – weight is a significant issue even for internal combustion-engined cars. It takes more energy to accelerate a heavier car and the same logic applies to EVs and ICEs alike. But in reality, driving patterns can have a much bigger impact on fuel consumption – if you drive everywhere with pedal to the metal it will make a big difference.

In the Ampera, there are two very prominent displays, in the dashboard and centre screen, and both have the option to make the driver aware of how their driving is affecting consumption. A green ball can be displayed on the instrument panel that makes it very obvious if you accelerate too fast.

Me: Too much weight can create a vicious circle where you need to add yet more weight to ensure the car can crash safely.

EF: Well we don’t think the Ampera has any issues there. We are expecting a four or five star result under EuroNCAP.

Me: At £28,995 after a £5,000 subsidy, the Ampera is not cheap. However, there are big tax incentives in the UK and many other European countries that make the price seem sweeter for company car buyers. What do you expect the balance to be between private and fleet buyers?

EF: We’re expecting 75 per cent to 80 per cent fleet. The interest we’ve seen from hand-raisers in the current pre-order process has confirmed that.

But we do hope the Ampera will appeal to consumers, and we think it will bring people into showrooms who would not previously have considered a Vauxhall.

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