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Vauxhall Ampera hybrid being tweaked for UK market

Engineers are working on the Vauxhall Ampera extended range hybrid in a bid to make it more suitable for European driving conditions.

The Ampera, based on the Chevrolet Volt and recently launched in the US, will reach the UK in 2012.

The Ampera uses a battery-powered electric motor, and when it runs down a small, 1.4-litre engine takes over, acting as a generator to continue powering the electric motor.

Vauxhall sits within the General Motors (GM) group and GM's European engineers are looking at ways to "save the battery until later" by allowing the driver to switch over to the petrol generator before the charge runs out.

This would allow people to drive into cities on the motorway, switching to emission-free electric drive once in the centre of town.

Vauxhall Ampera image 1

Engineering boffin Lars Peter Thiesen is overseeing the introduction of GM's hybrid and fuel cell vehicles in Europe and the plan is to start volume production of fuel cell powered cars in five years time.

These use hydrogen gas to create energy to power the electric motor and the only tail-pipe emission is water.

There have been a number of issues which have historically held back the development of fuel cells and these are now gradually being overcome.

Cost has been a particular problem as fuel cells currently contain around 80 grams of hugely expensive platinum.

Thiesen said GM's next generation fuel cell 'stack', slated for 2015, will contain just 30 grams. This will reduce the cost of the precious metal from around £2,000 per car to about £750. The aim is to ultimately reduce this to 10 grams by 2020 - around £250 per vehicle.

The next generation fuel cell stacks will also be lighter and smaller and will also have overcome other problems such as cold start issues, according to Thiesen.

A consortium of carmakers, fuel companies and energy providers is currently investigating how to set up a network of hydrogen filling stations across Europe.

Smaller units will also allow GM to fit fuel cells into smaller cars and Thiesen hinted that GM could launch a dedicated fuel cell model, just as it is doing now with the Ampera extended range model.

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Alison Bell

Filed under: Latest News, Hybrid cars

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