The future of Vauxhall's all-electric Ampera is safe, even if General Motors sells its European division, company insiders insist. 'All discussions with potential buyers include the Ampera,' one told us.
That will be good news for workers at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant on Merseyside, which, because of its flexibility, appeared favourite to be chosen to build the car.
GM Europe might not be sold
GM has been talking to two serious bidders for Vauxhall-Opel Canadian car parts manufacturer Magna, backed by a Russian consortium, and the Belgian private equity group RHJ.
There were fears GM might be loathe to share the technology behind Ampera and the mechanically-identical Chevrolet Volt with Russian investors. However, in the last few days there have been suggestions that GM might choose to hang on to its European offshoots.
The Volt is due to be launched in America next year, with the Ampera, badged as an Opel and a Vauxhall, to follow in 2011-12. Both are range-extender electric cars powered by batteries for normal commuter trips but with a 1.4-litre petrol engine on board to serve as an electricity generator for longer journeys.
GM is currently allowing journalists to drive development mules to begin spreading the message about the cars' unique technology and the likely cost of buying into it. It is being suggested in America that the Volt could cost $40,000, which equates to 25,000 at current exchange rates.
Low running costs
GM is now stressing that daily running costs will be negligible compared with an electric car, and says it is 'fighting to ensure that overall costs will be the same as a petrol car over five years'.
One possibility is a leasing arrangement for the lithium-ion battery packs, which will have a life of 10 years or 150,000 miles. Even after that, they will still retain 80% of their storage capacity, and GM says there is potential to hook them up to solar panels in homes and offices.
'They would be able to store enough electricity to supply a household for a day,' GM claims.
The company is also keen to allay fears about the impact of a large influx of electric cars on the national grid. 'Even if every car in Europe ran on electricity, they would use only 15% of the total that is generated, and we would need an increase in capacity of only 3-4% to cope with that,' GM says.