The trouble with a lot of green technology is that it smacks of jam tomorrow. Manufacturers reveal concept cars that will supposedly end our dependence on fossil fuels, but they never seem to get to production. Not so the Vauxhall Ampera and its Voltec drive system, which will be on sale in 2012.
The Ampera is an electric car, but not as we know them. It will meet the same safety standards as any other Vauxhall, accommodate a family of four (the battery pack rules out space for five), offer all the luxuries potential converts are used to and accelerate as briskly as a 1.6-litre Astra.
Above all, its Voltec drive system overcomes fears about being stranded at the roadside with dead batteries – what marketing types call 'range anxiety'. True, on a full charge the range is less than 40 miles, but if your regular commute is below that, you can recharge the car overnight on off-peak electricity using a standard household socket and you're always ready to roll.
The real beauty of Voltec, though, is that it allows you to undertake a longer journey or have a car at the ready if an emergency should arise. This is thanks to a 1.4-litre petrol engine that acts as a generator to power the electric motor in circumstances where you would otherwise be caught short. Vauxhall calls it a 'range-extender', and it adds another 300 miles to the distance you can travel.
Admittedly, a fossil-fuel engine is hardly the route to a future with zero tailpipe emissions, but the long-term goal is that the range-extender will be a hydrogen fuel cell that emits only water. Even now, the Ampera's CO2 emissions are rated at only 40g/km, with fuel economy of 176mpg, although the real figure will depend on how often you use the petrol engine.
All of this is housed in a stylish hatchback based on the next Astra. Vauxhall has even managed to house the batteries without having to raise the floor or fill the boot. It's going to be costly – somewhere between £25,000 and £30,000 – but if there was some sort of deal where you could buy the car and lease the batteries, or even lease the whole car, Vauxhall will have taken the lead in glamourising the electric car. It's so logical, it's genius.