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FUTURE OF FLEET: Vauxhall extending the EV possibilities (continued)

Date: 15 December 2009

Vauxhall's push into the future fleet arena is an electric vehicle with a twist. Paul Barker finds out more from GM's man tasked with launching EVs in Europe

Is this electric vehicle the solution?

GM is currently the only manufacturer far enough down the 'range extender' route to be talking timescales for production, while others aim for pure electric, diesel hybrid or even hydrogen power. But that doesn't mean anything, according to Gherardo Corsini, the man at GM Europe tasked with heading its electric vehicle launch.

"In Europe there are lots of different concepts in the market," he says. "It's important to understand that no concepts are bad, they are all good ideas and proposals. But there are fundamental differences between the current concepts and it's important to understand where we are coming from." The Ampera also has the advantage of being a full Astra-sized four-seater, compared to some other manufacturers that are bringing in smaller vehicles.

Corsini claims there won't ever be a pure electric vehicle capable of a 500km range. "It would be very costly and very heavy - you would need a trailer to carry the batteries around! Batteries will never be on a cost level to compete with our system."

GM claims a token 39g/km for CO2 emissions and 120mpg in the EU combined cycle efficiency test, although any journey under 40 miles can be completed using only electric power, so with zero tailpipe emissions and no fuel used.

There's also the prospect of not one but two range extender vehicles, as GM sister brand Chevrolet is developing its Volt, the sibling to Ampera. Originally Ampera was due to launch first, but with and increasing separation between Vauxhall and Chevrolet initiated by the proposed sale of GM Europe that consequently collapsed, it's thought that the Volt could also be on sale in the UK within two years.

So then, what is it like to drive?

BusinessCar was invited to GM's test facility in Bedfordshire to take a drive in the latest Ampera prototype. All the car's running gear was housed beneath the shell of a Chevrolet Cruze as we got the chance to test the car in a variety of environments including straight-line acceleration and city driving.

Driving on pure battery power rather than with the 1.4-litre petrol engine feeding the electric motor, the claimed 0-62mph time of nine seconds - roughly comparable with an 140PS petrol model - felt feasible, and we were comfortably and quickly into motorway speeds towards the 100mph top speed, limited to protect battery life.

Driving the Ampera does take a little adjustment because the power delivery is instantaneous, there's no lag waiting for it to arrive or being caught too low down in the rev range because it's not geared. That means tweaking driving style to avoid accelerating too early in a corner or roundabout, as the acceleration arrives as soon as the pedal is pressed. The other oddity is the brake energy regeneration system that absorbs energy when the car is slowing, which gives the brake pedal a slightly wooden resistance feeling.

But the car is certainly as quick and easy to drive as standard automatic petrol models, just quieter as there's no engine noise. There's nothing on the driveability front to be scared of.