The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) Future Car Challenge is an annual event in which a fleet of vehicles are driven the 63 miles from Brighton to London in the UK, with the winner being the car which used the least energy to get there. This year’s winner was the Renault Zoe, a pure electric car which will be going on sale in Europe soon. But the big news for us in the US was the three awards grabbed by Vauxhall, GM’s UK division. Two of these were won by the Vauxhall Ampera, a rebadging of the Opel Ampera, basically a Chevy Volt with some slightly different styling.
The Ampera took the award for Most Efficient Regular Car (The Zoe being much smaller than the Ampera, the Most Efficient Small Car winner is generally the outright winner), as well as the title for Best Range Extender/Plug-In Hybrid. GM’s HydroGen4 (entered as a Vauxhall) hydrogen prototype took the prototype vehicle class title of Best Fuel Cell Vehicle. This is a nice feather in GM’s cap, especially at a time when they are losing huge amounts of money in the European market. But it is also important to us here. Although we may not get the Renault Zoe in the US, the Volt has become a very high-profile car.
It has been criticized over and over for having been built at a time when GM was in need of government assistance to stay afloat. But this award, among others, shows that the technology works, and that the car wasn’t some cobbled-together political tool for GM to pretend to be green. Add to this the fact that Consumer Reports recently named the Volt as the most reliable car that GM makes, and the criticism starts to look a bit hollow.
The awards from the RAC shouldn’t really come as too big a surprise. We know the Ampera to be an efficient vehicle, especially within this kind of distance. What is potentially more interesting is the prototype vehicles. There is a lot of guesswork out there about what the future of transportation holds, and there was an unfortunate lack of variety among even the prototypes. The HydroGen4 represents the biggest deviation among the award winners from the norm of plug-in electric vehicles. These vehicles have some significant drawbacks, and the potential is there for other alternative fuels to take the lead if a way can be found to make them viable. This might not be hydrogen, but it’s always good to see manufacturers exploring other avenues.