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Vauxhall sceptical about electric cars

  • Vauxhall and Opel think all-electric cars are not yet viable
  • Instead, they will focus on range-extender cars like the Ampera
  • Fuel-cell cars seen as the solution for long-distance driving
Words ByWhat Car? Staff

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Vauxhall and Opel remain sceptical about the viability of pure electric cars, their head of business and product planning, Frank Weber, said at the Paris motor show.

Instead, the European divisions of General Motors will put their faith in the range-extender Ampera electric car for urban use, while continuing to develop hydrogen fuel-call cars for longer-distance all-electric driving.

The Ampera is an electric car with a range of 37 miles on a full charge, but an on-board 1.4-litre petrol engine acts as an electricity generator to allow owners to go longer distances or to use the car when the batteries are flat. It goes on sale as an Opel in Europe late next year and in the UK as a Vauxhall early in 2012.

I am sceptical about pure EVs [electric vehicles] on the grounds that you expect your car to be available at any time, said Weber. The thing about my car [the Ampera] is that it does not need any new infrastructure to support it.

The reason we continue with fuel cell development is that there is no other solution for long-range all-electric driving. It might come with improvements in battery technology in the future, but it will take a long, long time.

Changes in car ownership
Weber believes that traditional car ownership patterns are likely to change in the future. There could be an arrangement where people simply hire an electric car when they need one around town and swap it for something with greater range for longer journeys. They could even run an SUV in winter and exchange it for a convertible in summer.

His current mission is to expand the Vauxhall-Opel line-up into more sectors of the market. At Paris, the company is showing the Astra GTC concept, a stylish three-door coupe-like Astra, which will go into production largely unchanged. It also announced plans to make a rival for the Ford Ka, as well as compact and mid-sized crossovers.

We have a complex decade in front of us, Weber said. We have to find alternative propulsion solutions, but it is not clear how much we need to do and how fast. We will spend one billion euros in the next four years on alternative propulsion systems and will have mild and strong hybrids in all our car lines. The one thing that is clear is that personal mobility will not completely change.