New Vauxhall Ampera arrives in the UK

With motoring taxes rising, shortages of fuel this week and fuel costs increasing, the Vauxhall Ampera electric range extender family car is making a timely debut in the new car market.

Another boost to its appeal could be the 2012 European Car of the Year title it has just been awarded by the judging panel of 59 international motoring writers from 23 countries.

Unlike the numerous petrol and diesel hybrid and all-electric cars on our roads, the Ampera offers a different drivetrain solution.

The Ampera’s drive source combines power supplied by a 1.4-litre petrol driven generator which propels the wheels through an electric motor with a battery cell to extend the driving range further. The car also has a mains electricity plug in facility to charge the battery.

The Ampera has twin electric motors providing 148bhp with 273lb ft of torque at 250 to 4,000rpm, liquid heated and cooled 16kWh lithium-ion battery and petrol driven generator. Top sped is 100mph with zero to 62mph taking an impressive 8.7 seconds.

With the generator running fuel consumption is officially an optimum 235.4mpg. The Ampera in real-life conditions returned 66.1mpg on an extended run with 50 miles of power from the battery at this week’s press launch.

The 139 mile test drive route took place using the stop start commuter areas straddling the M4/M3 motorways close to London with some rural A and B roads included.

The Ampera is different from other electric cars because at no time does the petrol engine directly drive the wheels.

The Ampera’s battery is only charged directly from a normal 13-amp home or work wall socket and power supplier British Gas and Vauxhall have launched a fast charge kit that reduces its full charging time by around two hours. The fast charge takes four hours, the normal modern 13amp power supply six hours and older wiring circuits will take up to ten hours.

The main reason against buying an electric car has been the short driving range of around 100 miles at best. The Ampera’s mix of electric and generator power gives it a limitless range.

But like most electric powered cars to date the Ampera’s price will still be a deterrent for many would-be green ‘eco’ motorists, most of which will be company car drivers.

Currently the Ampera is launched with two trim specification model options, the Positiv at £32,250 and Electron at £33,995 and both prices include the Government’s £5,000 purchase grant. In September a £29,995 entry model arrives.

Seven hundred UK potential customers have already expressed an interest in the Ampera and so the modest sales target for this year is between 2,500 and 3,000 UK registrations. This is expected to rise to around 5,000 sales next year. Vauxhall already has a firm order from a leasing company for 20 units.

The Ampera is launched next month in the UK through a specialist network of only 24 dealers, all in metropolitan areas, so clearly the car is not going to be convenient for everybody.

The message Vauxhall are very keen to get across with the Ampera is that although it looks expensive to buy, it is cheap to run costing around £567 based on 12,000 miles a year taking into account that 75 per cent of the driving done will take place using only battery power and 25 per cent using the petrol/generator range extender function.