Ampera: Opel's Plug-Incarnation
By EV World
Carl-Peter Forster, the President of GM Europe, sees the Ampera concept car as "game-changing" technology. Based on GM's Chevy Volt, the extended-range electric car promises 60 km (40 mi) of 'Electric-First'* driving range, with an additional 500 km hybrid driving range.
Equipped with a 16kWh lithium ion battery pack, the Ampera promises to dramatically reduce the need for petrol (gasoline) for many commuters by shifting the motive energy that powers the car from imported and domestic petroleum to regionally-generated electricity from many different sources, both fossil, nuclear and renewable.
While the concept has great political appeal, economic and environmental questions persist. In France, where 70 percent of the country's electric power comes from nuclear energy, battery-dominate cars like the Ampera make great sense, as they do in Norway today. In countries where coal provides a significant fraction of the nation's electric power, they have less of a positive environmental impact, though studies have shown there is still a net overall emission benefit. Strategically and economically, relying less on uncertain sources of petroleum also makes good sense from a national security perspective.
However, the cost of the technology raises serious economic questions, most recently highlighted by a new study out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One of the conclusions the CMU study reaches is that plug-in hybrids with smaller battery packs operating in a "blended-mode" where the gasoline engine runs more frequently but over short time frames have a quicker economic payback than the series hybrid architecture that underpins the Volt and its spin-offs like the Ampera.
In the Voltec system, the primary motive power comes from a large and, at present, rather expensive battery pack rumored to cost as much as $16,000. After the battery has reached its designated depletion point -- 8kWh in the Volt/Ampera -- a petrol/gasoline engine fires up and powers an electric generator to provide the needed energy to continue to propel the car for several hundred more kilometers. The CMU researchers concluded, "Forty miles might be a sweet spot for making sure a lot of people get to work without using gasoline, but you’re doing it at a cost that will never be repaid in fuel savings."
GM Vice President for Global Production John Lauckner, in an interview with AutoObserver, emphasized that CMU's per kilowatt hour battery costs of $1000/kWh are "way high."
While he wouldn't disclose what GM's costs will be, Lauckner expressed confidence it will be well below the figures assumed by CMU researchers, who themselves do make allowances in the study that once battery costs drop to $250/kWh that this will "significantly increase [the] competitiveness of PHEVs, making them similar to or less expensive than HEVs and (conventional vehicles) across all distances driven."
"Battery-dominate hybrids and electric cars pose both opportunities and challenges for all carmakers," said EV World publisher Bill Moore, who added that "GM's commitment to extend its nascent Voltec drive system to other brands within the corporation is critical to bringing costs down over time, and that will eventually pay-off for the company, its customers and the planet."
The first pre-production Volts are slated to begin testing this summer, with North American commercial production to begin in late 2010. The Ampera will follow in Europe in 2011.
*Electric-First is a service mark of EV World.Com, Inc.
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