Opel Says it Will Lead EV Race, Working on More Vehicles

This week Renault-Nissan outlined its agenda to be number one in the world electrified auto market, but it won’t own Europe if General Motor’s Opel division has anything to say about it.

For that matter, GM has also said it aims for world dominance, but unlike the Japanese company, it prefers to release little snippets about what it’s doing rather than lay out a six-year plan.

Not that they are divulging much more, but GM’s European executives have been slightly more forthcoming. Last week, Opel’s sales and marketing chief, Alain Visser told Automotive News Europe it wants to be number one and this dovetails with its online brochure generally outlining the same.

“We want the Opel brand to be the market leader in electric mobility,” Visser said last week.

Opel has been encouraged by pre-orders of 60-percent of its first year’s 10,000 Volt-based Ampera allocation and the company is also working on at least a couple other small battery-powered vehicles.

One of the electric vehicles Visser said Opel may actually build is the wild-looking RAK-e vehicle featured at the Frankfurt motor show. It is intended to be low priced and entry level for drivers age 16 and up.

“By the year’s end, we’ll decide whether to bring the RAK-e into regular production,” Visser said. “If the decision turns out to be positive, the RAK-e could reach the market as early as 2013.”

Sources told Automotive News that the tandem two-seater – which is barely more than an enclosed four-wheeled electric motorcycle – will likely be priced between 10,000-12,000 euros ($13,932-$16,715), and may be built by KTM subsidiary Kiska in Salzburg, Austria, which helped develop the vehicle.

GM says the “dynamic lightweight concept” offers 62 miles of range and a top speed of 75 mph.

The RAK-e can be governed to just 28 mph in order to make the vehicle legal for young drivers in markets where 18 is the minimum age for full licensing privileges.

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“The emission-free electric city car even looks good on the highway,” Opel said. “The groundbreaking concept reaches far beyond any conventional vehicle. To drive 100 kilometers would cost just 1 euro.”

The second electric “minicar” Automotive News reported Opel is also developing will be somewhat more familiar to HybridCars.com readers, which is good, as Opel and GM in the U.S. have otherwise declined to share more about it.

Sources in Europe have said Opel’s other project may be a sister to the Spark EV which GM will launch in the U.S. in 2013.

As a side note, American pundits are also guessing where the Spark EV will be built. GM has not said whether it will be assembled in the U.S. or imported. One speculation is GM could very well bring in Spark EV “glider” rolling chassis from Korea to fit with their American-made A123 batteries and GM co-developed powertrain.

Rather than jump into the fray with other intrepid sleuths, we tried to go to the source, but GM spokesman Kevin Kelly replied that GM is not prepared to share more about this or other electric vehicle news at this time.

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Will Opel re-badge the pending 2013 Spark EV for the European market?

When the Spark EV was announced, another GM spokesman told us more news will come next year, but the pundits are still trying to discover GM’s secrets.

And actually, GM already contradicted itself on its ostensibly parsimonious information release policy. This week GM also announced the Spark EV’s motor will be made in Maryland further suggesting the U.S. model could be at least partially assembled here.

As for Opel and the European question, small e-cars are in keeping with its position on electric cars.

“Batteries have a relatively low energy density, so we believe a pure battery-powered car is primarily suited for use in urban areas where limited ranges are sufficient,” said Dr. Lars Peter Thiesen, Manager Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Deployment Strategy.

Thus, Opel’s e-mobility solution is a three-pronged approach involving a “complete range of electric vehicles,” according to an editorial by Rita Forst, Member of the Management Board, dam Opel AG and Vice President, Engineering Europe.

The range includes: Small, purely battery-powered electric cars for short distances, as covered above, the Ampera and future versions, and electric cars with hydrogen fuel cells “with no restrictions on vehicle size or use.”

This said, Automotive News notes that the aforementioned Renault-Nissan alliance will be standing in the way of its intention to dominate the growing electrified auto industry.

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If Opel is to succeed, the company will have to outdo plans by Renault-Nissan which include investing 4 billion euros ($5.57 billion) on electrified vehicle development.

“Some people might think our EV strategy is a big bet, said Renault Chief Operating Officer Carlos Tavares. “For me, it is not a bet, but a big insurance policy.”

If we learn more about GM’s electric insurance policy, we will be sure to let you know.

Given the evidence shown it would not appear Opel will have what it takes, but really we do not know. GM has a substantial advanced-tech initiative underway, lots of engineering talent, battery labs and partnerships with top battery makers, and BEV experiments now being conducted around the world

We shall see. GM’s strategy is not to show anything close to all the cards it has in its hand, but Opel’s general statements and GM’s known initiatives prove a race for preeminence is surely on.

Automotive News


  • David Peilow

    While I think the Ampera will be an important stepping stone and it seems the reservation figures back that up, I’m disappointed that they still see the end game as hydrogen.

    Next year we will see a 320 mile, rapid chargeable pure electric salon on sale. At that point any argument about energy density must go out the window.

    On the other hand a vehicle running on hydrogen electrolysed from the grid produces 3x the emissions of an EV equivalent.

  • James Davis

    David, the end game has always been hydrogen and nuclear; I thought everyone who listened to Secretary of Energy Chu’s speech figured that out. GM’s hydrogen fuel cell battery on wheels is the most advanced hydrogen battery in the world; it even surpassed Norway’s hydrogen fuel cell battery. The hydrogen fuel cell battery takes nothing from the grid; the battery produces its own electricity from distilled water and produces water as its only pollution. Do some research on hydrogen fuel cell batteries and you will see what I’m talking about. On the search engine type in “hydrogen fuel cell battery on wheels” or “hydrogen skateboard car”.

    A nuclear car, which is actually the battery itself, can get you over 300,000 miles. Nuclear and hydrogen fuel cell batteries is a one time purchase and will be the only battery you can pass down to your heirs.

    What pissed me off about GM is that they purchased and have had the “hydrogen fuel cell battery on wheels” now for nearly a decade or longer, and the nuclear car for about as long and they never did anything with them and is punning that crappy hybrid “Volt” off on us. If GM brought that “hydrogen fuel cell battery” to market when they bought it from the inventor; probably every car on the road now would be hydrogen based and nuclear based.

  • No more H2 BS

    James Davis: You should study elementary laws of physics. Statements like this:

    “The hydrogen fuel cell battery takes nothing from the grid; the battery produces its own electricity from distilled water and produces water as its only pollution.”

    proves that you have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about. Listen to other Dave’s link, understand it, and you will see that hydrogen will NEVER prevail as a ground transportation fuel and hydrogen fuel cells will never power passanger cars in significant numbers.

    Your “hydrogen fuel cell battery on wheels” or “hydrogen skateboard car” are just smoke and mirrors gadgets of the oil industry for the uneducated. Forget them.

  • Max Reid

    Make a car that has 4 wheels and seats atleast 4 passengers and price it affordable for masses.

    Don’t build those funky vehicles with 3 wheels or that can take 2 passengers. A car should be a family vehicle.

    Spark EV looks good. When Tesla comes out with Model S and if it has a 300 mile range, then the interest in Fuel Cell may slow down.

    But still fuel cells can be used to generate heat & electricity using natgas which contains 80% Hydrogen.

    Also heavy vehicles can use fuel cells since battery may not be powerful enough to run them.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    Hydrogen isn’t an energy source. It’s a net energy loser so they’ll never be widespread. It’s always more efficient to put the electricity directly into a battery than use it to make hydrogen, store and compress it, then burn it etc….

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Shines

    James Davis – I did what you said – I did a search on “hydrogen fuel cell battery on wheels”. The first article I read stated: Using water for fuel is like burning a fire with the left over ashes. Think abut it, when stopped at a light look at what’s dripping out of the tail pipe of the ice car in front of you. That is water… The only way to get the energy the hydrogen carries back out of the water is by putting energy into it. If you have an overabundance of extra energy – such as Norway’s Geothermal or a desert’s solar or wind power you could use it to recollect the hydrogen from water, but you might as well use the energy more directly.
    Anyway – back to the article – I like the idea of a 4 wheel motorcycle with an enclosed compartment to protect the driver. It doesn’t have to have a padded dash, glove box, carpeting, and other amenities of a car. Skip the door paneling and sound insulation and save the weight. It would make a fine commuter vehicle.

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ James-

    Nuclear powered cars? Yeah, right. Maybe in the future when it’s safe. But maybe you’re also envisioning no accidents on the roads also? Can anyone else imagine driving around a vehicle that has nuclear energy stored in it on the roads where 30,000+ people die in car accidents every year in the U.S. alone? Oh hazmat crews would certainly have their hands full wouldn’t they. You can’t just wash nuclear radiation off the roads.

    Hydrogen? As one other poster stated it’s a losing proposition at this point in time.

    As far as the RAK-e vehicle. I think that’s a waste of resources. It looks like it seats only one person. How efficient is that? It’s not. Not even if you’re a single person because owning that means you’ll be taking your date around on a bus, taxi or train. That’s really romantic. lol!

  • dhc

    Hydrogen? What’s wrong with water as an emission? Well, let’s see… more water into the atmosphere means more greenhouse effect (water vapor is a greenhouse gas). Also, more importantly, you WILL change climates. All this extra water in the air… How do you think it comes out of the air… as rain or snow. So say hi to totally new weather patterns that fluxuate with energy use. Oh.. but where does the hydrogen come from.. unless we are harvesting it from the sun, we have to get it from the electrolysis of water (using energy to separate H2O to H2 and O). As no process is 100% efficient there will be a net energy loss. More importantly, where does all the water come from? There is a shortage of clean water in this world, not a surplus. It’s like feeding our cars food. We’d be sacrificing something people need to survive to our cars.

  • Shines

    Capt. Concernicus – The RAK-e is a 2 seater – just tandem – like a motorcycle the passenger sits behind the driver. Talk about a waste of resources. How often is more than 2 people riding in a 4 or 5 passenger car?

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @Shines,

    I see enough to know that this vehicle will sell less than the Smartfortwo car especially in the U.S. Plus, if you have two people where do you put groceries, luggage, golf clubs or anything else? So I still believe this is a waste of time, resources and effort. So households with two or more people will need a second vehicle since this won’t do the trick.

  • Shines

    Capt. Concernicus I can see how you would view it that way. This is a concept vehicle and I think people need to think outside the box a bit more. I see this as a new type of motorcycle not a car in the traditional sense. This could be made available with a luggage compartment – the concept doesn’t but there seems to be plenty of room (physically and design wise) to add some storage. It should be lighter than the Smart, much more efficient, would probably have better performance, and it looks much cooler than the Smart. As a motorcycle it wouldn’t have AC or heating and would be noisier and have a much rougher ride. Still if it was electric, was fast enough for the freeway, and costs way under $20k I think there would be a certain market for it. I’m just sayin’…

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ Shines,

    I agree with you on the looks. Way better than the Smart car.

    However at a price point of $20k for a vehicle between a motorcycle and a car with no heat, A/C, rough ride and nosier? Almost sounds like you’re describing the Ariel Atom. lol!

    I would tend to think that this would only capture a small market segment. Maybe a 1-2k units sold a year.

    I agree that we need to think outside the box, but it also needs to be a mainstream vehicle.

  • KAA

    Actually all combustion produces water. The largest pollutant emitted from a gas car is water. Another example is high efficiency gas furnaces. My high efficiency gas furnace produces many times more water the my air conditioner. I expect a hydrogen ICE engine will produce about the same amount of water as a gas engine. While a fuel cell vehicle will produce significantly less. There are my other reasons why I think fuel cell vehicles won’t work. Principally the cost. All indications are that hydrogen won’t be cheap. I expect fueling a hydrogen vehicle will be 2X the cost of gas, while electric refueling will be cheaper.