Published October 29, 2011
By Jeff Cobb
Opel RAK-e. A flight of fancy? Opel says it is evaluating whether to build this little battery electric vehicle.
This week Renault-Nissan outlined its agenda to be number one in the world electrified auto market, but it won’t own Europe if General Motor’s Opel division has anything to say about it.
For that matter, GM has also said it aims for world dominance, but unlike the Japanese company, it prefers to release little snippets about what it’s doing rather than lay out a six-year plan.
Not that they are divulging much more, but GM’s European executives have been slightly more forthcoming. Last week, Opel’s sales and marketing chief, Alain Visser told Automotive News Europe it wants to be number one and this dovetails with its online brochure generally outlining the same.
"We want the Opel brand to be the market leader in electric mobility," Visser said last week.
Opel has been encouraged by pre-orders of 60-percent of its first year’s 10,000 Volt-based Ampera allocation and the company is also working on at least a couple other small battery-powered vehicles.
It rolls on motorcycle tires. Unknown is how it will have to be modified to pass crash tests.
One of the electric vehicles Visser said Opel may actually build is the wild-looking RAK-e vehicle featured at the Frankfurt motor show. It is intended to be low priced and entry level for drivers age 16 and up.
"By the year's end, we'll decide whether to bring the RAK-e into regular production,” Visser said. “If the decision turns out to be positive, the RAK-e could reach the market as early as 2013."
Sources told Automotive News that the tandem two-seater – which is barely more than an enclosed four-wheeled electric motorcycle – will likely be priced between 10,000-12,000 euros ($13,932-$16,715), and may be built by KTM subsidiary Kiska in Salzburg, Austria, which helped develop the vehicle.
GM says the “dynamic lightweight concept” offers 62 miles of range and a top speed of 75 mph.
The RAK-e can be governed to just 28 mph in order to make the vehicle legal for young drivers in markets where 18 is the minimum age for full licensing privileges.
“The emission-free electric city car even looks good on the highway,” Opel said. “The groundbreaking concept reaches far beyond any conventional vehicle. To drive 100 kilometers would cost just 1 euro.”
The second electric "minicar" Automotive News reported Opel is also developing will be somewhat more familiar to GM-Volt readers, which is good, as Opel and GM in the U.S. have otherwise declined to share more about it.
Sources in Europe have said Opel's other project may be a sister to the Spark EV which GM will launch in the U.S. in 2013.
As a side note, American pundits are also guessing where the Spark EV will be built. GM has not said whether it will be assembled in the U.S. or imported. One speculation is GM could very well bring in Spark EV “glider” rolling chassis from Korea to fit with their American-made A123 batteries and GM co-developed powertrain.
Rather than jump into the fray with other intrepid sleuths, we tried to go to the source, but GM spokesman Kevin Kelly replied that GM is not prepared to share more about this or other electric vehicle news at this time.
Will Opel re-badge the pending 2013 Spark EV for the European market?
When the Spark EV was announced, another GM spokesman told us more news will come next year, but the pundits are still trying to discover GM's secrets.
And actually, GM already contradicted itself on its ostensibly parsimonious information release policy. This week GM also announced the Spark EV's motor will be made in Maryland further suggesting the U.S. model could be at least partially assembled here.
As for Opel and the European question, small e-cars are in keeping with its stated position on electric cars.
"Batteries have a relatively low energy density, so we believe a pure battery-powered car is primarily suited for use in urban areas where limited ranges are sufficient,” said Dr. Lars Peter Thiesen, Manager Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Deployment Strategy.
Thus, Opel's e-mobility solution is a three-pronged approach involving a "complete range of electric vehicles," according to an editorial by Rita Forst, Member of the Management Board, dam Opel AG and Vice President, Engineering Europe.
The range includes: Small, purely battery-powered electric cars for short distances, as covered above, the Ampera and future versions, and electric cars with hydrogen fuel cells "with no restrictions on vehicle size or use."
This said, Automotive News notes that the aforementioned Renault-Nissan alliance will be standing in the way of its intention to dominate the growing electrified auto industry.
If Opel is to succeed, the company will have to outdo plans by Renault-Nissan which include investing 4 billion euros ($5.57 billion) on electrified vehicle development.
"Some people might think our EV strategy is a big bet, said Renault Chief Operating Officer Carlos Tavares. “For me, it is not a bet, but a big insurance policy."
If we learn more about GM’s electric insurance policy, we will be sure to let you know.
Given the evidence shown it would not appear Opel will have what it takes, but really we do not know. GM has a substantial advanced-tech initiative underway, lots of engineering talent, battery labs and partnerships with top battery makers, and BEV experiments now being conducted around the world
We shall see, but whether everyone has shown their complete hand or not, the race is surely on.