Ampera: the future of the business car?

Ampera: the future of the business car?
Martin Brown

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Martin Brown

March 2012

I attended a conference recently where there was something that really caught my attention: a presentation on the new Vauxhall Ampera, which goes on sale this year.

If you’ve not come across the Ampera before it’s a really exciting development in low emission car technology – and I’m not talking the latest green sandals here.

Get this: the Ampera has 370Nm of torque available under your right foot – instantly. No wait for turbos to power up and boost the crankspeed. Instant on.

Not convinced? Try this for context: the exceptional new BMW 320d diesel has 380Nm of torque – 10Nm more than the Ampera. This is the stuff that gives you all that low-down easy-going drivability. Now the BMW’s peak torque is available between 1750 – 2750 rpm. Keep the engine in that range and you can access all that brilliant shove-you-down-the-road performance.

But with the Ampera there’s no wait: it’s instant. It’s torque gone digital. On = one; off = zero. You can see why I want to drive one. But there’s more to the Ampera. It’s an exciting new breed of car that will, I fancy, change the complexion of business car motoring.

With the Ampera there’s no wait: it’s instant. It’s torque gone digital.

Yes, the Ampera is battery powered, but unlike electric vehicles, such as the Nissan LEAF and Renault Fluence, there’s no ‘range anxiety’ – will I make it to my destination or be left stranded before the battery goes flat?

The Ampera is different; it’s a range extender.

Let me explain. Electricity drives the Ampera’s wheels at all times and for most trips up to 40-miles, power is supplied by the electricity stored in the car’s 16-kWh, lithium-ion battery. While driving in this mode, the Ampera is a zero CO2 emission car. But what if I want to go further?

This is where it gets clever. When the battery’s energy is depleted, a small petrol engine acts like an on-board generator to power up the electric drive unit while simultaneously sustaining the charge of the battery.

Vauxhall reckons the Ampera can travel up to 300 miles like this before the battery requires re-charging via a standard household 240v outlet. In other words, ‘range anxiety’ is neatly eliminated.

OK, I know the Ampera’s 300-mile range won’t get me from Glasgow to London in one go. But then, frankly, neither will I. Yours truly needs fuel stops along the way too, which allows the opportunity to top up the Ampera while you’re stopped.

Clearly the Ampera has many benefits for reducing car emissions and reducing company car tax. Emissions are below 40g/km so company car tax will only be 5% of the P11D price.

Meanwhile Vauxhall predicts that the Ampera will cost roughly one-fifth of the current cost per mile of an equivalent petrol engined car, which suggests running costs will be astonishingly low. Furthermore, practicality issues have been addressed – the Ampera is a five-door hatchback with four seats.

I’m sure electric cars will have a specific niche; but range extenders are where the future of ultra-low emission business car motoring lies.


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