A journey into the future? Electric car on trial

A journey into the future? Electric car on trial

Swapping an Audi for a Vauxhall Ampera

Last week I swapped my normal vehicle for an electric car, on loan from Vauxhall to our fleet department. I was keen to put the electric car through its paces to see if these vehicles have a role in helping us meet our target of reducing carbon emissions from business travel by 30% by 2016.

For those, not up to date with the latest eco-driving innovation: the Ampera is a plug-in electric vehicle with a back-up combustion engine as opposed to a hybrid vehicle that uses a combustion engine backed up by electrical assistance.

Driving more miles on less fuel

Driving more miles on less fuelThe fleet team are already searching out the most efficient vehicles on the market for our fleet; new Vauxhall Insignias will soon be available with emissions of 99 g/km, compared to the current models at 118 g/km.

But, as with many of our ambitious SustainAbilities targets, we need to look a little further into the future for innovative solutions, the Ampera offers 27g/km.

250 mpg – not bad!

I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Ampera. Last week I was mostly based at George Road so I used it for commuting and covered 183 miles, using the battery 75% of that time. My fuel economy never dipped below 150 mpg and by the time I gave it back was over 250, so it matches up to the manufacturer’s claims. And I have to say you wouldn’t know it was an electric vehicle over petrol unless you stuck your head out of the window.

A new style of driving

I also found it surprisingly easy to adapt my driving style to suit the car. A few people will be aware there’s a very long hill near my house, and I noticed this took its toll on the battery after I had set off. However, the Ampera recharges if you take your foot off the accelerator or if you brake, so on the way down at least some of this was replenished. New routes also opened up, getting to the office by the shorter route across town as opposed to the motorway wouldn’t be economic in my Audi, but in the Ampera I could use the battery and conserve fuel.

Inevitably you do need to use some fuel. On one of the test days I had to make lots of short journeys from home to the office to the station, back to the office and then home again. There simply wasn’t the time or infrastructure available to properly recharge the car’s batteries.

Where can I plug in my EV?

Which leads me to the problems I found… By far the biggest issue was that the supplied charging lead wouldn’t reach past my garage to the nearest plug. Vauxhall say you can’t use an extension lead, so I was only able to charge it in the garage at work, at premium electric rates. Can this offer any real monetary saving against more efficient diesel engines? There’s also the cost of installing the necessary charging infrastructure and the issue of who pays for the electricity. These are questions that we are hoping to be in a better position to answer by trialling the vehicle.

Disappointingly, it also failed the golf club test!

A car for the future…?

In summary though, once I had resisted the temptation to collect the neighbour’s milk bottles, I found the experience to be positive. Despite the charging issue, I would go as far to say that there is potential in future for a similar type of pool car for use by employees on short business trips, or those who live local to the office. What do you think?


Ian Renhard

Ian Renhard - Managing Director, UK Construction. Ian is a Civil Engineer with a wealth of industry experience. He is Construction’s Board Champion for Sustainability and is responsible for leading the Construction Group and developing it’s strategic direction.

  • James Willcox

    I drove this over a weekend and couldn’t really fault the technology. Sure it’s a little strange having to plug your car in when you drain the battery, but I only had to do this twice. I used it for my 45 mile motorway commute and to pootle around the city and it worked fine for both, getting 150 – 250 mpg depending on how much I needed the engine. I can see more and more households adopting a two car policy where they have some sort of electric vehicle for everyday/commuter use, and a traditional fuelled vehicle for longer journeys and holidays. For now, the high capital cost of the car, concerns over longevity and resale and the lack of suitable charging infrastructure would act as deterrants for me, but I can see that changing.

    • richard.jones@interserve.com

      360 miles on 0.1 gallons of fuel, is that actually possible?
      I’ve just completed a working week trial of the Ampera based on my normal driving pattern. I commute to George Road 44 miles, in each direction of which 90% is motorway driving, and use the car sparing during the evenings. I must admit prior to using the EV I was sceptical of its ability to meet my requirements but the Ampera proved me wrong.
      I drove the vehicle in a comparable economic way to my BMW 3 series diesel which achieves 12p/mile. The EV proved up to the challenge of cruising at 70mph on the M1 and M6 whilst not draining the life out of the battery. The publicity suggests the vehicle has a 50 mile range before the generator takes over, I found this to be accurate unlike manufacturers claims about CO2 levels from their internal combustion engine vehicles.
      I had no problems charging the vehicle from a 13amp socket at both ends of the journey i.e. George Road and home. Although I will be considering a home rapid charging point when I get my first EV for real.
      The cost to charge the EV was £1.60 at George Road and due to a combination of peak and off peak tariffs plus VAT £1.77 at home. The 13amp plug charger requires 5.25 hours to fully charge the vehicle, hence the need for the rapid charger which seems to come with a 75% subsidy from the government. This would enable me to fully charge the vehicle on off peak rates and reduce the home charge cost to £1.35.
      So my 360 miles cost roughly 3.75p/mile as opposed to 12p/mile from my usual vehicle.
      I suppose we’ll need to consider rapid charge points at all our fixed offices shortly and some sort of swipe card system to attribute costs of the electricity if we are going to make a serious effort to utilise this technology.
      Anyway my conclusions on the trial:-
      Car is a little expensive
      Technology does what is says on the tin
      Drive experience was excellent
      Tax benefits, for company car drivers, are not to be sneezed at
      Resisted urge to collect any milk bottles
      Golf spoils a good walk (Mark Twain) hence no problems with bats in the boot.
      We are all going to have to get used to EV’s because in a few years we will wonder what all the fuss was about.

      • Ray Webber

        Hi everyone, does anyone know or has anyone requested an estimate of cost to install a fixed charging point(s) at our regional offices or at home?
        Likewise, what does the home rapid charger lead cost?
        If we’re to make the switch and encourage appropriate drivers to select the Ampera, surely the infrastructure has to be in place to encourage those humm’ing about it?
        Curious to know more about the Ampera and other user experiences, I’m a surveyor typically driving circa 25 miles to the regional office and regular trips to site within a 100 miles radius

  • Florin

    Very interesting blog post. I live relatively close to the office, in Sutton Coldfield and I go through city traffic all the time. The new VW Passat is more economical than the old Insignia, still it only does on average 44mpg as combined 80% city traffic-20% motorway traffic.
    I asked Steve in the garage about the car and I’ve been told the car costs now £ 43k which is quite a lot compared with what can save you on fuel. I didn’t do a calculation but I think it only can be an alternative to drivers using the car in town as it will save on fuel required to move off in pretty stationary city traffic.
    I didn’t know you cannot use an extension plug…how are you supposed to charge the car is there is no plug available within the length of the supply cable?

  • Robin O’Kelly

    Very interesting. Who else out there is driving electric?

  • Rich Gwilliam – Vauxhall Fleet

    We’re really glad that Ian is enjoying his test drive so far.

    The Ampera enables fleet drivers to save on P11D costs, while at the same time delivering the same driving experience as any other fleet car, with no “range anxiety”.

    This vehicle has won numerous awards over the past year, including Green Model of the Year, 2013 Business Car; Best Hybrid/ Electric Car, Telegraph Motoring Awards and Green Car of the Year, Auto Express. These are testament to the Ampera’s ability and to have brilliant feedback from Interserve proves that the Ampera is an economical and environmentally friendly solution for a business. We are pleased that the fuel consumption Ian is achieving matches his expectations. This vehicle is suitable for typical commutes but can also accelerate from 0-60mph in 8.7 seconds, so it’s perfect for motorway runs too.

    It is advisable to get a charging point installed to make sure that charging is safe and convenient. Vauxhall has now launched the Ampera Drivers’ Package, which has been created specifically for company car drivers.
    It includes: a Type 2 public charger (worth £220), which is a fast charging cable; £335 (inc VAT) home charging installation top-up allowance, equivalent to the 25% funding gap on domestic home charging installations; Lifetime Warranty (excluding battery) and an 8-year/ 100,000 mile battery warranty.

    Even though it’s not the most practical vehicle for a milk run, there’s nothing to stop you giving it a go!