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Our Friend is Electric

46 MarkMark Adams: The Man Behind Opel's Award Winning Ampera.

Recently, General Motors European Division, Opel, won the coveted European Car of the Year for its ground breaking Opel Ampera (marketed in the United Kingdom as Vauxhall). BluePencil caught up with Mark Adams GM Europe Vice President of Design to discuss the philosophy behind the Ampera and the effect of modern day regulation on the look and efficiency of the cars the public drive.

Mark Adams:-
'The design cues of the Ampera first appeared in our concept vehicle the Flex Stream shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009. It teased some of the eventual design strengths that were driven in to the Ampera such as the boomerang front line. The Ampera has a lot of new innovative technology.

When you see the Ampera on the road it has a unique personality. It has a unique feeling. It is a very a clean car (aerodynamically) with many design tricks to give it an efficient, but bold shape. There is the deep side glass and the sills very close to the road. It is a very cohesive looking vehicle. The Ampera is an iPod on wheels.

When engineering a car its needs to be engineered as a concept in one location and we cannot do multiple designs, so as to ensure a consistent brand philosophy. The USA version of the Ampera, the Volt, has a very different personality to the Ampera.

When, for instance, we designed the Opel Insignia model it was aimed at the European market, but we gave it a personality that we knew would sell in other markets such as Asia and North America where is sold as the Buick Regal.

At Opel, we try avoid 'vanilla', but understand our market and customers so the vehicles have the right design personality.

The demands of regulation and safety legislation are considered throughout the design process from concept to reality. The design and regulation run together. However, I let my young team think freely in their design so as to create the broad based concept, and my role is like a funnel to narrow their designs so that they meet the safety and regulatory requirements. As an example, the Opel GTC was designed in free form, but there are many subtle adjustments in its final form to meet engineering and safety requirements.

The use and emergence of alternative fuels does influence design; for instance with hydrogen one has to consider the bulk of the storage tank. However, the momentum of technology and investment will make packaging of new fuels easier. One has to only look over the years how more efficient the packaging of the internal combustion engine has become. One has to develop unique packaging to fit the technology. With mass market vehicles one is governed by costs to ensure the vehicles are efficient and affordable.

The laws and regulation while introduced for the right reasons, for instance, pedestrian safety there can be knock on effects which affect other attributes of a car. As an example, pedestrian safety regulation requires the design to create space between the skin of the vehicle and the hard points in the architecture of the car so as to minimise pedestrian injury in any impact. The consequence of these regulations is that bonnet levels rise and the cowling areas (dashboard) are pulled away and raised thus effecting the seating or 'H point'; in turn, this raises the roof line which reduces the aerodynamic efficiency so co2 emissions are challenged, thus making a vehicle less fuel efficient. If we did not have such rigid pedestrian safety rules then we could make cars more economically favourable.

Opel does have people dedicated to lobbying the bureaucrats, but I or any of my team are not involved.


One of my favourites is the Lamborghini Miura which was really the first supercar. I love its design, stance and proportion.


Arguably, in the past Opel's cars were missing an emotional side. However, when you now look at a car such as the GTC it has a great look. I want to design cars that appeal to the heart and make you smile'.

The Opel (Vauxhall) Ampera won the 2012 European Car of the Year and is one of an increasing range of alternative fuel cars and range extender vehicles whereby an electric motor is allied to a diesel or petrol engine vehicle. The car uses a synchronous electric motor powered by lithium-ion battery and supplemented by a petrol powered generator to recharge the batteries. It can do 100mpg and has a co2 of 27g/km(excluding any co2 kicked out at the power station). It has been praised for its comfort and performance, but expensive compared with a frugal diesel. However, arguably it is the most usable of the alternative powered vehicles and seen as the car that will break down the barriers in to the brave new world of motoring.

Julian Wilkins

Julian Wilkins is Editorial Director for Blue Pencil Media Limited. Julian has a LLB (Hons) in law and M.Phil in law as well as a Diploma in European law and was admitted as a solicitor in 1988; he practices in the area of media, entertainment, and intellectual property law as a consultant for Devereaux Solicitors in London. Julian is also a Notary Public and CEDR accredited commercial mediator. Julian has written for academic publications and contributed to an Exhibition Catalogue about 1960s photographer Philip Townsend. Julian is a member of the International Association of Entertainment Lawyers and also the British Institute of International and Comparative law. Julian is a finalist in The Media Lunch Club “Short Circuit” script competition to be held in November 2011. Julian’s comments “The rapidly changing world economy and technology is presenting incredible opportunities for the Creative Industries and Blue Pencil hopes to reflect and contribute to these changes.”

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