Driving the Future

oliver General, Technology/ Energy Saving

As an eco designer it won’t come as a surprise that I’m no petrol head motoring journalist but I have had the chance to drive a number of pure electric cars over the years – many with varying degrees of success and just a little anxiety.
Why the anxiety?
Whilst I do believe electric cars are the future, their range can often be limited and if for any reason they aren’t charged properly there is a real possibility of not ‘quite’ making it to your destination. Range anxiety for many electric cars feels all too similar to driving the vintage cars of my student days.

Well the Ampera changes all that. Whilst the batteries drive the motor for 98% of all our journeys on those over the 40 mile range the petrol motor silently steps in, to charge the batteries making range anxiety a thing of the past, and putting our driving needs into the future.

The Ampera is something of a dream to drive- ultra quiet, and smooth, it seemingly glides around town – so much so that we found we needed to take a little extra care to look out for unwitting pedestrians stepping out to cross the road. Luckily it’s equipped with warbling warning horn to alert day dreamers and head phone wearers without offending.

The Ampera’s exterior outline feels sporty and sleek – optimised for aerodynamic efficiency (right down to the hub caps!) and seems to be a real head turner.
It’s driving style feels solid and well built, whilst acceleration is noticeably more instantaneous than conventional petrol or diesel cars. But with a 0 to 60 of just under 10 seconds there’s nothing alternative or lacking in its performance.

Not that the Ampera encourages you to hammer it – it’s a car that relishes in good driving style – the dash board bristles with dials, data and controls to help you maximise the efficiency  of your driving technique and the internal temperature controls. And who wouldn’t want to make the most of petrol free mileage if possible?

The Ampera will give you around 40 miles of driving on the battery power alone, depending on your driving style, internal heating controls and exterior temperature, before the petrol engine almost imperceptibly hums into action to give you a further 310 miles of range. Over the 6 weeks that we’ve used the Ampera it’s given us an impressive 150 miles per gallon across 600 miles of driving. At this rate we may only need to visit the petrol station 4 times a year.

Charging the Ampera up is simple and once plugged in takes around 6 hours from a standard 3 pin plug, 4 hours from a dedicated charging point. On a standard domestic system this would cost around £2 per charge, but using by my home’s solar photovoltaic panels and charged on a sunny day, we’re able to charge for free….. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me feel – my home really is our very own power station!

It is incredibly satisfying to be free from petrol stations for so much our transport needs, and deals so neatly with my carbon footprint guilty secret. Added to which it makes the return on investment (the payback period) for our PV panels even smaller and the advantage of having them even greater. All this means that driving an electric car like the Ampera is more than just about getting from A to B but a lifestyle choice that fits in with my home and my low carbon aspirations.

On the down side all this optimization means that aerodynamics have taken precedent to allowing roof racks to be fitted – a shame as I imagine many who have a passion for sustainable lifestyles may well also have a passion for the outdoors, so this negates the possibility of strapping a bike or a surfboard to the roof. My only other gripe is that the interior seats 4, as the raised battery compartment running down the centre space cuts out a 5th seat. But let’s face it, if it suits 98% of my driving needs so cleanly then perhaps for the other 2% we find an alternative option like renting a car for the day.

Of course the cost at around £30,000 (after the governments £5000 grant) will be a problem for many, the only answer being that compared to a conventional car the Ampera will save you a considerable sum each year. So depending on how far and how much you drive every week, it could save you thousands every year in fuel bills. And just to put a seed into your mind – perhaps in the future we’ll find an alternative to buying and owning cars – leasing all or even just some part of them such as the batteries?

For many, the idea of being environmental means having to make do without the usual comforts in order to do your bit, but the Ampera bucks that tired adage, adding more than a little style, performance and luxury to eco lifestyles. And if the future sees us gliding silently around town, charging directly from the pv panels on our roof and getting 200 mpg – it’s not surprising that our friends are ribbing us about being “the future family”- but you know what, I’m pretty happy with that.