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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.