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OPEL AMPERA PIONEERING THE WAY FORWARD FOR ELECTRIC CARS By Brian Foley

The Opel Ampera and its sibling the Chevrolet Volt are the first practical electric cars for everyday driving, from slow city traffic to longer distance motoring, thanks to the elimation of the dreaded range anxiety which is a major negative factor with all other EVs to date. The Ampera and Volt are a General Motors design, built in the USA with the Ampera scheduled to go on sale shortly in Ireland, followed by the Volt in 2013. Both cars are virtually identical in every aspect apart from separate badging,subtle styling changes and different interior trim and specs. They are stylish mid-size 5-door models with seating for four – a third rear passenger is not possible due to the high central tunnel which houses the battery. The unique electric propulsion system consists of a 1.4 litre Opel 4-cylinder petrol engine which powers a generator to recharge the liquid cooled lithium-ion battery when necessary to give an extended driving range of up to 500km on a full tank. The 16-kWh battery supplies power to an electric motor, which is oupled to an automatic transmission with final drive to the front wheels The Ampera is powered by electricity at all times and at all speeds. The battery can be recharged in up to four hours at 230v and 16A, or around 10 hours on a standard hoursehold 3-pin socket at household electricty cost. It all sounds rather complicated in the time honoured tradition of new technology, but there are no myseries or trick driving required. The nearly silent electric drive delivers 370 Nm of instant torque, the equivalent of 150h. Test driving the Ampera over a mixture of roads and in traffic in Germany was extremely satisfying and pleasant, and indeed an enlighting experience. Most impressive is the brisk acceleration for safe overtaking. Zero to 100km/h in around 9 seconds and a max. of 161km.h is quite sporty performance. For trips between 40 to 80km the Ampera runs in pure electric mode with CO2 emissions zero rated. Because the battery can be recharged conveniently most Ampera cars are likely to be driven in battery model nearly all the time. Ideally the Ampera shows to maximum advantage in daily short commuting, with the range extender providing peace of mind for longer distance weekend and holiday drives. Driven with optimum operating economy in mind, running costs should work out at 1/3 the cost of an equivalent petrol/diesel car.

How much? That answer will be the major deciding factor in the sales success of the Ampera. At €46,995 the Ampera is price pitched in the premium category. The price includes the Government grant of €5,000. And in every respect from built quality, fittings and furnishings to driving dynamics the Ampera can be compared favourably to any premium model in the same price bracket. Whether Irish motorists are prepared to pay for pioneering technology remains to be seen. A base trim version called Earth will be introduced in early 2013, and will include most features of the Positive model minus leather seats, parking sensors and reversing camera. Opel Ireland is not expecting a rush of buyers, but none the less, intial sales of around 50 cars is a pretty reasonable expectation from October to mid-2013. By comparison with the Ampera, other EV prices are the Renault Fluence €21,610, Nissan Leaf €25,595 and the diminutive Mitsubishi MiEV €29,557. The Fluence price does not include the monthly rental on the battery.