Currently charging the Ampera?

P=VI therefore I which is Current equals Power (P) divided by Voltage (V) which should define the Ampera, or does it?

Having recently driven a prototype version at Millbrook, I was intrigued because it is unique, having dispelled¬†the new term of ‘range anxiety’, moreover with an increase in two grand on the price of the Nissan Leaf, there are¬†only three thousand pounds difference between them, taking account of the UK¬†Department of Transport’s “Plug-in car” grant. That represents value for money, which say Vauxhall has a three hundred and sixty mile range accounting for its E-REV acronym of Electric –¬†Range Extending Vehicle.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f35jCT4245s[/youtube]

With only five minutes until boarding¬†from Heathrow,¬†waiting for the next¬†shuttle train to get to terminal five, I chanced upon Kryten a.k.a. Robert Llewellyn who was in the same predicament. He has progressed from ‘Red Dwarf ‘and ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ to ‘Fully Charged’,¬†that as¬†its name¬†suggests reviews ‘electric’ cars. We¬†eventually made our way to meet fellow carhacks to ‘wait’ on the plane – which we did for two hours!; more than twice the flight time to Schipol airport in Netherlands, not Holland as most people seem to assume.

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Negotiating my way through passport control enabled me to sit in one of the first production Opel Amperas, they’ll be badged Vauxhall¬†in the UK¬†for this¬†March’s launch in Blighty. Having driven south in a two litre diesel Astra, I was¬†reminded¬†of the car’s proportions as I gingerly eased the Ampera down the car park slope, sensors beeping manically¬†The passenger bonnet corner seemed¬†invisible,¬†even when raising my head and I¬†became aware of white lines – on the road, trying to place the Ampera within as both cars are based on the same Delta¬†chassis.¬†They seem solidly built, comparable to Volkswagen group quality, even though the Ampera’s built in Detriot with battery cells also produced nearby. Alterations on¬†our production model included¬†“Spice Red”¬†door inserts and matching hue on leather seat backs and trim to compliment the paintwork, with an oversized kangaroo pouch, designed as an afterthought¬†to fill the void between two individual rear seatbacks. Of course, the T shaped battery pack of 198 kilograms¬†has inhibited a fifth seat but I think¬† General Motors should have included soft padding¬†between the¬†rear seats, anything but¬†that massive pencil case crudely held by velcro¬†–¬†this is a twenty nine thousand pound car after all!

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At Millbrook, I described the Ampera’s performance on the city circuit as undramatic as it was in driving rain¬†towards¬†The¬†Hague, location of the Louwman museum that doubled as our rest stop. Aside from linear pedal to metal acceleration on a sliproad with¬†torque, equivalent to a three litre diesel,¬†the Ampera’s torque ‘curve’¬†is a¬†diagonal line as it’s evenly distributed; we felt assured, despite¬†gusting winds and heavy rain responsible for our delayed landing. As a driver, I felt detached from the experience and distracted¬†by screens showing range bars, kilometre speeds, a green ball as well as¬†navigation in a foreign environment.¬†The sensation of fluidity abounds in suspension and steering with only slight detection of the range extender i.e the constant engine pitch taking over when battery power was depleted¬†¬†There is¬†some indulgence for the potential performance driver with a ‘drive mode’ button offering¬†power changes¬†of ‘normal’ (for 90% of driving, say Opel) or¬†‘sport’; ‘mountain’ (for high speed inclines) and ‘hold’ to use extended range produced by the engine¬†to reserve battery charge¬†for zero emission zones. Electrohydraulic regenerative braking is found using the ‘L’ ratio on gearing to give you the sensation of¬†slowing the car to turn the generator/alternator although this function provides no increase in range.

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Extensive testing of the Ampera and its components have been conducted over the years, with an emphasis on electrical safety that has subjected the T-shaped battery to immersion under water and nails through its cells.¬†Testing of batteries verifies warranty cover over eight years or 100,000 miles although¬†Opel stressed that this is¬†what they have found so far¬†and that there was no reason why the batteries would not last even longer.¬†Getting to the guts of the Ampera are (deep breath), the primary traction motor that generates 111kWs of power and 370Nms of torque with a second motor, the 54 kW generator; planetary gearbox and (86bhp) 63kW¬†1.4 litre engine that runs off E85 fuel and of course, the 16kWh lithium-ion¬†battery pack¬†. It’s a fusion of engineering, especially when viewed in profile on the attached film.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYlgHweaqws[/youtube]

The Ampera crept silently onto the stage¬†of the Louwman museum, an ominous whirring from the electromagnetic handbrake¬†punctuated an Opel design¬†officer¬†leaving the car,¬†to explain the¬†mantra of ‘sculptural artistry’, so passionately advocated also¬†by Vauxhall/Opel Vice-President of Design¬†Mark Adams. Aerodynamics has sculpted the Ampera, considering the additional mass, to create polycarbonate wheel inserts to improve airflow¬†with slats at ends of bumpers. Furthermore, the Bose infortainment system uses 50% less energy than conventional units¬†and air conditioning has an ‘Eco’ setting, slower than maximum.

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General Motors has clearly created an alternative product to subdue the range sceptics, complimenting the traditional combustion engine and electric components with substantially reduced emissions overall. I eventually left Schipol on my third attempt, the previous two flights having been cancelled, and collected the Astra in the red-eye hours. Torque boost with some diesel clatter distinguishes the Astra although the Ampera has a layer of environmental credibility hiding its engine!

Words, photo (museum) and film are copyright of Sotiris Vassiliou

Ampera photos copyright of Vauxhall Press Office (UK)

July 2011

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