The Opel Ampera, the European version of the Chevy Volt, could be built for easy battery upgrades.
Electric cars are going to be more popular in Europe than in the United States. That’s because, by and large, Europeans have higher gas taxes, denser urban centers, greater consumer acceptance of smaller cars, and more aggressive carbon emission targets.
The importance of electric cars for the European market was underscored this week by Nick Reilly, CEO of Opel-Vauxhall, the European carmaker owned by General Motors.
In a report from Edmunds, Reilly said that Opel-Vauxhall is planning to produce a series of extended-range EVs—with a system similar to the Chevy Volt—each with its own styling.
With every global automaker announcing plans for electric-drive vehicles, Opel’s plans are not surprising. But it’s intriguing that Reilly says the third-generation—that’s two generations away from the Volt rolling out later this year—will have a battery pack designed to only last a few years. Current-generation hybrids have been successful because consumers can expect their extra battery packs to last the full lifetime of the vehicle—without requiring expensive replacements. Instead, Reilly believes, the goal should be to make those upgrades cheap and easy, and therefore reduce the upfront cost of the Volt and the Ampera.
Not Quick Battery Swaps, But Much Greater Battery Flexibility
The key to that cost reduction is the ability to offer the battery pack with a choice of sizes—smaller cheaper packs for shorter all-electric ranges, and larger more expensive packs for longer ranges. Moreover, owners should have the ability to easily remove and replace packs in a matter of a few years—well ahead of the 10-years of battery life expected from the first plug-in cars.
It’s difficult to remove the battery pack on the first-generation Volt-Ampera—because, among other things, it was built with crash protection as the priority. New construction methods, according to Reilly, will create the necessary flexibility for quicker battery upgrades.
The existing Ampera is scheduled to go on sale in Europe in summer 2011. Reilly believe that electric cars and hybrids could take as much as 15 to 20 percent of the European market by 2015.