General Motors in the UK is already eyeing potential fleet customers for its Vauxhall Ampera E-REV (electric range extended vehicle) ahead of UK market launch in 2012.

UK communications director Denis Chick told just-auto that the company is already talking to potential fleet buyers for the car and that there is plenty of interest from the UK government and the public sector.

“We’ll start off with fleet demonstrators,” he said.

“But we are already picking up plenty of interest from potential fleet customers. The fact that the right-hand drive car goes on sale in the UK in 2012 – the year of the next London Olympics – is also highly significant in terms of visibility for some fleets.”

Chick added that there had been ‘huge interest’ in the car from London’s Metropolitan Police Force with an announcement possible later this year.

The Ampera goes on sale in markets across Europe as an Opel late in 2011, with the Vauxhall-badged RHD version for Britain arriving a little later in 2012.

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Opel/Vauxhall CEO Nick Reilly told just-auto earlier this week that a decision on whether Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant will win the contract to assemble the Ampera plug-in hybrid model will not be made for another 12 months.

Reilly said: “The Ampera development is on track and by the middle of next year we plan to have a limited fleet on the road with major fleets and government departments.”

How many Ampera cars will be built in Europe? Annual volume of 50,000 is seen as a minimum level to justify the investment in another manufacturing location (besides the US, where it will initially be made alongside the Chevrolet Volt).

The evolution of the market for such vehicles is clearly a major unknown with much depending on the eventual vehicle price point – itself subject to manipulation by government incentives designed to encourage early take-up.

How hefty will the price to customers be? Even with GM openly admitting it will be taking a loss on the vehicle because of its expensive and embryonic technology (like Toyota did when it introduced the Prius), Amperas will likely be priced well above comparable fossil-fuel burning models.

Mitsubishi Motors (UK) said this week that the price of its i-MiEV electric car has been set at an eye-popping GBP38,699 including VAT. A UK government grant will be worth GBP5,000 off the purchase price of qualifying electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, making the transaction price GBP33,699 including VAT (the Ampera will also be eligible for the subsidy).

Wherever the European Ampera is eventually built, high shipping costs mean that it is likely that battery manufacturing facilities will be an integral part of the set-up, as has been the case with Nissan in Sunderland.

Dave Leggett

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