Theme : Brochures – Vauxhall Ampera

It is always chastening to see humanity’s schemes laid low. From the grand boasts that accompanied the launch of the Titanic to some of the pledges that Barack Obama was not able to fulfil; even with the best of intentions we sometimes underperform.

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Earlier this month we looked at the first brochure for the 1998 Fiat Multipla. Brimming with optimism, or some have suggested hubris, the public generally avoided the enthusiasm of that car’s creators. And now we look at another ‘failure’, the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera. Introduced in early 2012, the Europeanised version of the Chevrolet Volt was on sale in the UK for little more than two years.

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Despite some of the motoring press not really quite getting it, the Ampera has a select coterie of admirers on DTW’s pages, and even an owner, based on it being an intelligent response for its time to the question of creating a car that could run as a pure EV for more than a few hundred metres, yet offer no range anxiety issues. Yet, despite the ubiquity of the more straightforward Prius in the UK, it seems that the Ampera was met here with the sort of suspicion that old-school Citroens once attracted; of being too clever for its own good. In this case, possibly having the down-to-earth Vauxhall badge was counterproductive.

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But you can’t say they didn’t put in the effort. The brochure puts the case as well as you could ask. Although not trying to qualify for publication by the Society of Mechanical Engineers, it clearly describes the working of the Ampera in 43 pages of words, photos and illustrations. Pages have confident headlines, none so bullish as “The Future Starts Here”. There are the inevitable puns such as “Generate Attention” and even a nod to Star Trek fans, possible just the people who grow up wanting to be technology’s early adopters, with “Resistance Is Futile!”; although as it states on a later page the Ampera is “Just Science, Not Fiction”

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But when I got my brochure in Autumn 2014 they couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. Although still officially available, the Ampera’s withdrawal had been announced and dealers were divesting themselves of the demonstration cars. At this time I seriously considered getting a year old one and it was only the body style’s inflexibility for my personal needs that decided me against. Certainly the brochure itself sold the car to me far better than a salesman could.

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For the UK, quite a conservative marketplace, maybe the Ampera was a bit ahead of its time. The idea of a PHEV has become more recognised now but I remember at the Volt’s 2010 US launch, journalists not seeming to quite understand its definite advantages – not surprising because, as well as a low grasp of aesthetics, it’s a bit shocking how rudimentary some writers’ instinctive grasp of even basic engineering is.

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Across the Atlantic, the Ampera’s Volt cousin has held on, still currently the most successful plug-in hybrid, resulting in a Series 2 model, though it might soon be overshadowed by the confusingly-named, pure EV Chevrolet Bolt. Mitsubishi is nipping at its heels too, and has had considerably more success in the UK with its Outlander PHEV, introduced 2 years after the Volt. Similarly priced, this was possibly helped by having its technology clothed in the body of an SUV, appearing both more versatile and more fashionable than a low, saloony-looking hatchback. But looked at objectively, I’m not convinced it’s the better car. Maybe it’s got a better brochure.

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4 thoughts on “Theme : Brochures – Vauxhall Ampera”

  1. A truism in marketing is that peddling a pre-existing concept is much easier than selling something truly new. You only have to see the number of Hollywood films retreading existing IPs to see how true that is. The Ampera is a clever engineering response to a difficult brief. But in labouring the technology angle, GM’s marketing made the car seem TOO clever.

    It perhaps did not help the Ampera’s cause that, abstracted from the technology underneath, the car itself was not terribly compelling. From the outside the car looked lumpen and heavy, and lord only knows what the stylists were trying to do with the acre of plastic underneath the DLO. Inside, an impression of tightness imposed by the battery filled spine of the car was not dispelled by other choices, including a looming dashboard made from dark materials and a gun turret glasshouse.

    It is a shame that the UK will not see a version of the second generation Chevrolet Volt, as that car appears to address many criticisms levelled at the original car. I also think that it is a huge mistake not to offer any version of the Bolt, which looks like a terrific EV and could’ve been a breakout product for GM. Who knows, perhaps as and when Opel is dumped on PSA, we might see both cars sold under the Chevrolet brand. But I doubt it.

    1. The problem I have with the second gen Volts styling is it looks like several others while the gen 1 like it or loath it is unique. On the flplatform,the newer car is more efficient and the minor controls may have improved but I’m still happy with the former and have even accepted (conformed) to its touch controls which on the Volt version are a blinding high gloss white, I much prefer the darker shade in the Ampera.
      It appears there are 1257 registered in the UK as of the third quarter 2016 plus 121 Volts with some seventeen of the Amperas on sorn which could mean they are in dealers hands.
      Sales started to take off end of 2011 and flatlined end of 2014 when it was known GM wouldn’t be replacing it with the upgraded version.
      I personally think this cars failure was due to timing and logistics. It was introduced to a fledgling customer base that was lacking knowledge of the concept and as it was finally gaining sales and recognition the line was shut down for retooling of the second generation.
      Why they chose not to continue only GM, Opel and Vauxhall can answer that, maybe it was because of the planned Bolt which is a more European platform, or production line difficulties mixing in rhd.
      We see this with the Bolt where there is no planned rhd version.

  2. Nice brochure. They tried.

    I spent a great deal of time fully grasping how the system worked in the Volt Mk 1. It was a lot of work, because this thing was far beyond what anyone else had developed and brought to market. Very few journalists had a clue, so the various articles made little sense, simply because the scribblers weren’t bright enough to work it out, so informing others was just not going to happen.

    Because of the then recent bankruptcy of GM in the USA (not elsewhere, not in Canada for example), even Americans couldn’t be persuaded to laud one of their best engineering feats in a while. They would rather gasp on about how the firm should not have been bailed out by government. So sales weren’t large there either. And the people that did buy them seemed intent on playing a game where they would see how many months they could go not buying gas.

    Even though the Volt Mk 1 is a plug-in, it is not what people think of as a hybrid. The engine doesn’t recharge the battery EXCEPT around the run down point after the engine has started, where a few percent is added to allow climbing of long steep hills where the 98 hp engine by itself has its tongue hanging out to maintain speed of a 1750 kg vehicle. Since the run down point is 30% of charge, it would even allow discharge beyond that of several percent if torque demands remained high. After that you had a slow car. But – you must plug the beast in to fully recharge the batteries. GM always called it an EV with range extending engine. The BMW i3 is weak sauce compared to the Volt in engineering terms plus it looks revolting to me at least. As I’ve said before, if you want an i3 here, they’re giving them away.

    The Mk 2 Volt is even more clever than the first; but enough of the guts. In some provinces of Canada, you get a huge rebate to help you buy an EV (of broad description). Unfortunately not here in Nova Scotia. I’d like to have bought a Volt to get an idea of newish tech, but not for $10K over the odds if I lived 500 miles away. This situation hasn’t changed.

    I was then also willing to have a go with a Prius basic hybrid, not the plug-in one as I cannot see lugging about several hundred kilograms of extra batteries to the detriment of every performance parameter for the worse, except electric range. Then they brought out the present model. Sorry, I am not buying a vehicle whose front looks like a chicken being strangled, contorted in pain, and the back like a freehand drawing of a Dan Dare rocket from 1955.

    Generally though, thumbs up for the Volt (and Ampera). The Bolt will sell because it has real range. Even Car & Driver managed to beat the claimed 238 miles of range, and it is arranged to get a move on as well, 0 to 100 km/h in about 7.5 seconds.

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