Vauxhall Ampera thoughts and experiences


Ampera Photo Goes HereIntroduction


After waiting years for years for an electric car with a usable range, Vauxhall finally launched the Ampera in the UK on the 1st of May 2012. Patience used up long ago I bought one on launch day, and here are my thoughts and observations as I approach 2 years of ownership of the new machine.

Much has already been said about the driving experience so I wont dwell on that. Here is just a quick summary of the things that set this apart from a normal car before we move on to something less subjective.


You can read many more opinions all over the web, with gm-volt.comii being a great place to start. The purpose of this page is to share some numbers.

Analysis

Fuel

We can view this car as a dual fuel vehicle. It has two tanks:
A 35 litre petrol tank.
A 12 kWh battery. Actually, the battery is arguably bigger or smaller than that, but I am calling it a 12kWh battery for reasons that I will get to later.

But first lets simplify things still further. This mix of units makes any economy comparisons, indeed any comparisons, difficult. So lets work in litres for everything. To do that we will need the concept of a litre of electricity.

A litre of petrol contains 9.7 kWhiii of energy. So lets have our notional litre of electricity do the same. A nice approximation is a litre of electricity is 10kWh (or 10 units if you want to speak like a utility company). If you prefer old units gallon of electricity is 44 kWh.

Now we have our units sorted, lets look at that the tank sizes again.

We have two tanks:
A 35 litre petrol tank
A 1.2 litre electricity tank. That is surprisingly small, but more useful than you might think.

You can fill either of them when you like and you can select to draw fuel from either of them via a button on the dash when you run the car. So as fuel input goes it really is very like a duel fuel car.


Fuel Costs

A litre of Petrol retails for about £1.40.

A litre of Electricity retails for about £1.40 (10 Units at 0.14p a Unit from Good Energyiv)

So not much in it there.


If you drive around a lot, you do have the option of economy 7 that would drop your electricity price to about £0.60 providing you fill up at night. You can set the car up so even if you plug it in as soon as you get home it will wait for cheap rate to start before charging.


Efficiencies

Propulsion

Here is where it starts to get interesting. The car itemises how many miles its travelled powered by Petrol and Electricity since it was last fully charged. I have used a wall electricity meter to measure the electricity its used, and I am taking its word for the petrol usage so far as I have yet to buy any.

Running on Petrol (average over 8192 miles) 43 mpg, nothing special there but...

Running on Electricity (average over 4596 miles) 118 mpg Now that's more like it! And remember electricity is cheaper than petrol to buy.

So which mpg number do you use? Impossible for me to say for your case. Its always going to be a mix, you can have about 40 miles in each journey at 118 mpg, and you accept 43 mpg on the rest.

For me that mix has so far given an average of 57 mpg. I realised when I was buying the car my driving mix would not suit it well. You would get maximum return if you had 40 mile daily commute (20 each way), or double that if you can charge at work. I work from home and the drives tend to be either local shopping runs or long haul trips to distant relatives. Still, I traded a Jaguar XJ8 giving 27 mpg in for this car, so it looks great after that. Here is how its worked out for me.

MPG on Electricity averaging 118 mpg so far.

The spread arrises from the mix of roads and the season. In Summer electric fuel economy numbers tends to work out the opposite of internal combustion economy. You get your best electric mpg numbers on the urban cycle, and the worst on the open road. That's because the electric motor uses no power when stuck in traffic, when you're forced to slow down most of the energy is recovered rather than wasted in the brakes, and there is little air resistance at urban speeds.

In winter its less clear cut. Your missing the useful side effect of the petrol engine, where for every galon you use moving you arround at least 2 galons must be wasted as heat. The petrol car driver always has more waste heat than they can use and never need use additional fuel keeping the car warm. With electric motor efficicenies being in the high 90s there isn't enough waste heat and battery power that could be used by the mother needs to be diverted to heaters warm the car. The mpg suffers as a consequence.

Battery

Vauxhall state its a 16kWh battery, of which it uses 10.4 kWh, the rest is held in reserve to maximise its life. This brings us onto a topic was curious about when I ordered the car. A battery isn't like a liquid fuel tank, you are going to get out less than you put in, but by how much?

The car tells us how much power its used, and my wall power meter tells me how much its taken each time I charge. From this its easy to calculate the efficiency.

Battery efficiency averaging 80% so far

The average for all my charging so far has been 79%. Its been very consistent, it's not seasonally affected like the mpg numbers and is showing no degredation with time. Note some of the low numbers in the 2012/2013 winter included energy used by pre-heating. You can press a combination of buttons on the key fob before you leave the house and the car heats the cabin from mains power, which registered on my energy meter. Later I decided to reset the energy meter before starting the charge to remove this error.

So if we measure the capacity of the battery by the energy needed to fill it, we get 10.4/0.87 = 12 kWh. For consistency I am measuring everything by what goes in, and so using that as the size of the “electricity tank”.


Costs of ownership

What's wrong with it?

Or to put it another way, "Its a radical new design, what did they mess up?" Its true GM/Vauxhall did drop the ball in a number of areas. Here is my list of Friday afternoon bits, in descending order of inconvenience:

  1. Its only got 4 seats. The battery runs down the middle of the car and consumes space where the rear centre foot-well would need to be, so there are only two seats in the back instead of 3.

  2. Phone integration weirdness. The integration with my iPhone ticks all the boxes, it pairs quickly and wirelessly each time I get in the car and the car becomes a hands free phone. The phone's phone book, its call history appear on the car screens, the phones music appears on the cars audio system, the voice instructions from the TomTom Satellite Navigation app come out through the car speakers, the car charges the phone, the phone somehow gets a good GPS signal even in the middle of the car. But....

    When you plug in the phone to the USB connector, which you must for most of the above, it doesn't wait to be asked, and starts playing music. A minor irritant that gets converted to a big irritant with this feature. If you push the pause button on the cars dash to stop the unsolicited music, it blocks the turn by turn directions from the phones TomTom app too. The only way I have found to have navigation without music is to load a mp3 file on the phone containing just silence, and ask the car to play that in an endless loop.

    If you buy the optional in car Sat Nav, you can mostly discount this one. But that's £1,700 to get started + another £200 every time you ask for a map update, all for a system that cannot even work out a street name from a post code.

  3. Here's the one I find most inexplicable. The trip computers only measure petrol consumption!? Does ignoring electricity consumption in a electric car strike anyone else as a bit of an oversight? There is nothing in the car that will show a miles per kWh or anything like it, and electricity usage is not included in their mpg numbers, which tend to just max out at a fixed display of '250+' as a consequence.

  4. The luggage bay cover is a naff bit of black cloth you have to snag round 4 recessed hooks. If you thought those roller blind things you get instead of a parcel shelf in BMWs were bad, take a look in the back of this. They came up with something even more flimsy and its even slower to open and close.

Having said all of that, with the exception of the 4 seat thing, they are just niggles and don't significantly detract from that magical propulsion system. The lack of the 5th seat will either be no problem, or rule it out, depending on your circumstances.


Other Positive Points

So apart from the smoothness, quietness, low cost of ownership, what else is good?

The future of fuel bills

Its been said humanity's greatest failing is a lack of understanding of the exponential. Lets look at one exponential, Petrol prices. Petrol has gone up an average of 14% per year for the last 3 years. If that trend continues, the next 10 look like this:

Year

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Price of a litre of Petrol

£1.40

£1.60

£1.82

£2.07

£2.36

£2.70

£3.07

£3.50

£3.99

£4.55

What does that mean for fuel spend? UK average vehicle does about 45mpg, and we average about 9000 miles per annum. That works out like this

Annual fuel bill

£1,260

£1,436

£1,637

£1,867

£2,128

£2,426

£2,766

£3,153

£3,594

£4,097

Running Total

£1,260

£2,696

£4,334

£6,201

£8,329

£10,755

£13,520

£16,673

£20,268

£24,365

That assumes Petrol continues to go up at the rate it has for the past 3 years. There is a school of thought that says it must go up quicker because vehicle fuel economy is improving, so less fuel is being bought, so the government revenues from fuel duty are going down. This leaves a budget shortfall they fill by increasing the tax on every litre of fuel.

Final Thoughts.

I had really high expectations for this car while waiting for it these past 3 years. Yet so far I have not been disappointed.

If your looking to get a new car any time soon, you have somewhere to plug it in, and can live with 4 seats you should test drive one of these. If its just the price putting you off, work out your fuel bill over your next cars life first.

It will appeal to different people for different reasons:

Right now you get most of your VAT back in the form of a £5000 government contribution to the purchace price, which you can count on disappearing as soon as word gets around and they start to sell in significant numbers.



References

iVectrix MaxiScooter http://vectrixeurope.com/

iiGM-Volt http://gm-volt.com/ an independent forum for owers and people interested in the Chevrolet Volt.

iiiEnergy content of Petrol is from Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasoline#Energy_content_.28high_and_low_heating_value.29

ivGood Energy http://www.goodenergy.co.uk/ sell power sourced only from renewable methods. It costs slightly more than the cheapest of the regular utilities, although that difference has been eroded with the recent fossil fuel price rises. Using them provides a quick answer to the criticism that I am running a car on coal. It turns out that running the Ampera on dirty electricity is still better from a carbon point of view than cars running on Petrol, but convincing someone of that isn't trivial.