Vauxhall-Opel: I will survive

  • European buy-out a possibility
  • Ampera vital to any deal
  • Up to 300-mile range
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Vauxhall and its European counterpart Opel are insisting they will survive regardless of what happens to troubled parent organisation General Motors.

Karl-Peter Forster, the president of GM Europe, says funding from third-party equity sources and liquidity support from governments could help the company through the global sales slump that is expected to last well into next year.

Other company insiders say this could result in a buy-out of part of GM's stake in Vauxhall and Opel, with the two European partners continuing to share platforms and technologies with the troubled American parent.

Ampera holds the key
Vital to any deal would be continued co-operation on the Vauxhall-Opel Ampera electric car that was revealed at the Geneva show.

This is based on the platform of the soon-to-be-announced new Astra and the Voltec power system GM has developed for the Chevrolet Volt in the US.

Ampera is an electrically-driven hatchback that can cover 37 miles on one charge, plus another 300 miles with a small petrol or diesel engine to act as a generator.

The Ampera has a 16 kilowatt-hour motor and, as shown at the Geneva motor show, a 1.4-litre petrol engine acting as the generator, or 'range extender'.

Car of the people
'Most Europeans travel less than 50 kilometres (30 miles) a day commuting,' says GM's European electric vehicle director, Gherado Corsini.

'Our aim all along was for a battery that's robust and that will have a lifespan of 10 years. We never use more than 50% of the battery's power, but even with that our 60-kilometre (37-mile) range estimate is realistic based on a combination of city and highway driving.

'The range extender provides electricity straight to the motor to use it to charge the battery would be expensive and inefficient. It is there purely as a bridge to the next charging point.'

Stylish and green
The Ampera is a stylish and sporty-looking hatch back with different styling to the Chevy Volt. It also avoids the eco-special appearance of hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.

GM's European design chief, Mark Adams, says the aim was to create a car that looked as though it would be good to drive.

Despite housing its batteries and electric motor in a T arrangement under the floor, the ride height is the same as that of the next Astra. 'We wanted to do that not just for style but for aerodynamics, because raising the ride height immediately affects fuel consumption and CO2,' says Adams.