Opel Ampera: Fashion Accessory or Realistic Solution?

We’ve all heard of hybrids and smart diesels that use very little fuel and are decent for the environment. Now have you heard about range extending cars? Anyone?

I’ll admit it now. Even though I love a good thumping V8 engine, there comes a time when you have to put aside your petrolhead mentality and think about what the future holds for motoring. I have a keen interest in cars that are smart, unique and are built with environmental concerns in mind. With the fuel price increasing on an almost monthly basis, it appears that we as a nation have to put more and more money aside just to fuel up our cars so we can get around.

Even the diesel brigade, who at one point were high on the top of Smug Mountain, are feeling the pinch along with their petrol brethren. Hybrids seem to offer one alternative but unfortunately they’re either too expensive (Toyota Prius) or hopelessly impractical (No families in a Honda CR-Z). There’s a time and a place for a hybrid vehicle and I’m not saying that they’re bad, but there aren’t enough of them on the roads to make a real difference.

Now there’s a new kid on the block. Okay, I lie. It’s not that new but it’s not confirmed for SA as yet so there has been very little said about it. Meet the Opel Ampera, or the Chevrolet Volt if you’re reading this in the United States. It’s what’s known as a range-extender vehicle and, on paper at least, looks rather promising.

How does it work exactly? Well, without boring you with technicalities, the Ampera has both an electric and a petrol engine. While most hybrid vehicles have this combination, the Ampera’s petrol engine is not connected to the wheels. This small petrol engine is used to drive an on-board electrical generator. You can even plug the vehicle into a plug point overnight. Essentially it is an all-electric vehicle but when you battery runs out, the petrol engine comes to life to charge it up again.  Think of it as driving around in your very own power station!

It’s not exactly slow either and the Ampera has performance figures of 111kW and 370Nm. Top speed is rated at 160km/h. The Ampera website sums it up perfectly: “Ampera drives 40-80km on purely electric base, carries four passengers, carries more than 300 litres of luggage and can be recharged in about 6 hours. With its range extender, it drives more than 500km, always using its 111kW electric motor and emitting just 27g/km”

General Motors has done considerable European research and has found that 80% of German drivers travel less than 50km on a daily basis. Think about your daily commute. Driving from home to the office with a small detour to the shops and to pick up the child from school. What sort of distance is that? My guess is that you can’t be doing more than 100km per day. The petrol engine will need fuel though. What I find amazing is the fact that if you don’t do big distances, you’ll be putting petrol in about once a month! It all sounds very good and my sentiments are shared by many as the Ampera was awarded the title of European Car of The Year 2012. The downside to this otherwise pretty cool vehicle is the price. According to Opel UK (Vauxhall) the Ampera costs £32,250.00 (around R420,000!) It’s a lot of money… Would it be worth it?

Right, now that I’ve told you about the Ampera, would you like to see it in South Africa? Will it do well here? Do you think the clever engine will help save money in the long run? Leave your interesting comments in the box below…