GM's Opel Plans First Battery-Powered Car in Challenge to VW

  • Opel brand to bring out 29 new or revamped models by 2020
  • Electric Ampera-e model to be `affordably priced,' Barra says

General Motors Co.’s German brand Opel will introduce its first fully electric car next year as part of a 29-model lineup overhaul, putting pressure on Volkswagen AG as it reels from the diesel-emissions scandal.

The new car, dubbed the Ampera-e, will have five seats and a longer range than most battery-powered cars and be “affordably priced,” GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said in a speech at the CAR-Symposium industry conference in Bochum, Germany.

“GM and Opel have always been convinced that electric cars will play a defining role in future mobility,” Barra said. The Ampera-e technology is “a significant step toward realizing that vision," part of Opel’s strategy of “making innovative engineering widely accessible.”

The Opel model will challenge the VW-brand’s battery-powered e-Up! and e-Golf, which came out in 2014. While the car industry is accelerating a push into electric models, Volkswagen is having to balance spending on the vehicles with the still unknown costs of resolving an emissions-cheating scandal centered on its diesel-powered autos.

The Ampera-e will feature a flat battery pack mounted underneath the interior floor, freeing up space for five seats and a trunk area comparable with that of a compact car. That technology mirrors a flat-battery project that Volkswagen is working on.

GM is investing more than 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in its European operations through the end of 2016 under an initiative that started three years ago in an effort to stem losses. Opel and its sister U.K. brand Vauxhall are set to bring out 29 new or revamped vehicles by 2020, including a new sport utility vehicle as second flagship model in addition to the Insignia sedan and station wagon. The nameplates are seeking 8 percent market share in Europe by 2022, compared with 5.8 percent last year, and targeting a 5 percent operating return on sales by then.

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