Ten years ago, Opel came out with a quasi-EV so stylish you’d never have guessed it was from GM. You probably haven’t spent much time thinking about the Ampera (shame on you), but I think we should reconsider its design. It demonstrated that GM could make a good-looking electrified car when it tried even just a little.
Sadly, the original Ampera’s death came after just four years on the market. The plug-in hybrid, sold in 2011-14, drew buyers in even smaller numbers than its American counterpart, the Chevy Volt. Its lackluster sales are mostly attributed to its range on battery power alone (around 40 miles), which didn’t convince early EV adopters, and its price, which was not commensurate with what people were getting. It was too little electric car for too much money.
Hell, it wasn’t even exactly a range-extended electric car as promised, just a very swank plug-in hybrid. But you know what? It looked good!
To be fair, I think that the Volt and its engine-assisted cousins found a good compromise to relieve range anxiety and its electric-only range was serviceable. Range arguments aside, the Ampera just looked cool.
And now that GM has announced its EV plans and Chevy released the new Bolts, I can’t help but feel like these new EVs take after the Ampera in some way. The new Bolts certainly have more in common with the Ampera than with the Volt.
Both of the new Bolts were pleasant surprises to me because I have disliked Chevy’s design language since about 2010. Despite Chevy’s questionable styling, and despite the Opel being one of four Volt rebadges, the Ampera’s design overcame the original’s flaws and ended up being one of GM’s best takes on what an EV should look like.
It traded the bowtie for a lightning bolt, which highlights that Opel, now part of Stellantis via the PSA merger, has the best emblem for the EV transition. So right off the bat, the Ampera made a good impression. It traded the beaklike grille on the Volt for a better integrated front end, which even managed to make its fake long lights look good.
And it just looked cohesive, or integrated; nothing seemed out of place.
I’ll even go as far as saying that if the Ampera came out now among our growing slate of EVs, it wouldn’t be the worst-looking car around. It’s kind of like a late-model Saab in that way, and oh my god, I just realized the final Saabs were released during GM’s ownership. Clearly, GM was doing something right, at least for this brief period.
So I’m glad that it’s going in that direction again. The new Bolts recall what made the Ampera special. They may not wear the lightning bolt badge, but they could prove that sometimes lightning does strike twice.