Friday, August 03, 2012
That’s a chunk of money for a 4-seat car that isn’t a premium brand. But Opel is aiming at just that premium buyer cohort.
So, in Ireland, will people who can afford an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz consider the Ampera?
That’s where the carmaker is taking a punt. On that there are enough executives out there willing to take their own gamble on a change of image. They might be there, because of the 7,500 or so Amperas which have already been sold across Europe, three out of every four have been to company fleets.
As a local entrepreneur friend of mine used to say, ’suck it and see’. So we’ll see. But first let’s look at what they might be sucking on.
As I said, the Ampera is an electric car. One with the range of a standard car, even though anything over 50-60kms on a trip will be using electricity produced by a petrol-engined generator.
The car is about the size of a BMW 3 Series, but because much of the battery is built into where a transmission tunnel would be, it’s definitely a 4-seat car only. Four travelling in comfort, mind you. And with perfectly adequate luggage space.
The Ampera has the distinctive ’boomerangs’ style elements around the front lights that we have already seen in the Zafira Tourer. The detail might be an acquired taste issue, but otherwise the car has strong looks, and a good finish.
That last can make the difference between going 50kms and over 80kms on a plug-in charge. There are also tricks to help, such as running in an eco mode which cuts down on climate control levels among other tweaks.
Let’s get some technical things clear. The Ampera is not a hybrid, even a plug-in one, because for typical commuting distances you’ll never hear the petrol engine tripping in. And even when you do, going the longer distance, the engine won’t be directly powering the wheels.
If your driving lifestyle is consistently long distances, the Ampera is not for you, because a good diesel-powered car makes much more sense both in fuel economy and CO2 emissions. But if, say, you live in an outer suburb and drive in to work every day, and have the facility to recharge the battery while at work, it can make significant differences.
In simple running costs terms, every 100kms of that commuting will cost you €2.80 or so if the car is only running electrically. An equivalent diesel car used the same way will use maybe €8 worth of fuel. In test cycles, the Ampera is CO2 rated at around 31g/km in overall use, but 0.0g/km in electric only use.
Worked out, the savings can be from around €800 in a typical 15,000kms year of driving at current fuel and electricity prices. There’s a pattern of significant oil price rises and taxes which have substantially bumped up pump prices in the last couple of years, and many think this will continue.
So is there an arguable case for switching on to Ampera and other extended-range electric cars soon to follow the GM trailplazers?
Well, if you compare the car with a diesel Mondeo, for instance, tricked out to a similar specification as the Ampera, there’s a price difference of, say, €13,000 to be made up in the fuel savings. Or, 16 years of ownership.
On the other hand, if you are positioning the car up with the elites, as Opel would like to happen, and offer it against an automatic 3 Series diesel with autobox and 163hp, the gap is nothing. And you could feel real good about your contribution to the environment.
I drove the Ampera yesterday in a variety of roads and traffic situations around Mainz in Germany. It was, for the record, quite a premium driving experience.
Realistically, the Ampera won’t make enough of a dent in the sales mix to cause any of the elites to lose sleep, or sales of any consequence. And the residual values aren’t even worked out hypothetically yet.
But it represents a brave stab at changing ideas of personal transportation. It won’t make GM any money this time around, no more than the first generation Prius did for hybrids and Toyota. But if they stick at it, the next generations of EREVs, and of their owners, will likely not raise the questions I have here.
Because they will simply be there, in substantial numbers, models and brands, another option for the buyer whose needs they suit. Meantime, we’re still in brave new world mode.