General Motors (NYSE:GM) CEO Mary Barra said on Thursday that the company will launch a new electric car in Europe in 2017.
What General Motors said: Speaking at a conference in Germany, Barra said that GM subsidiary Opel will launch a new electric crossover called the Ampera-e. The new Opel is a fully electric vehicle shaped like a small crossover SUV, with four doors and seating for five.
Barra promised that the Ampera-e would have a "longer range on a full charge than most electric cars," and that it would be "affordably priced" -- but she (and GM) didn't reveal specifics. GM said in a statement that more details would be released at a later date.
About the new Opel: The Opel Ampera-e is obviously a lightly retrimmed version of the Chevrolet Bolt EV that is set to go on sale in the U.S. later this year. Its name is taken from the now-discontinued Opel Ampera, the European-market version of the first-generation Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid sedan.
Its price and range should be very similar to that of the Bolt, though the range may differ slightly because of differences in the way that U.S. and European regulators calculate an electric car's range. GM has said that the U.S.-spec Bolt will have more than 200 miles of range, and cost about $30,000 after U.S. government incentives.
In Europe, the Ampera-e will most directly compete with BMW's(NASDAQOTH:BAMXF) i3, and Volkswagen's (NASDAQOTH:VWAGY) battery-electric e-Golf. In U.S.-specification trim, the i3 has an EPA-estimated electric-only range of 81 miles, and a starting price of $42,400, while the e-Golf has an EPA-estimated range of 83 miles, and a starting price of $28,995. The Ampera-e should beat them both handily on range, and will almost certainly be less expensive than BMW's i3.
It might also, in time, compete to some extent with Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ:TSLA) upcoming Model 3, but it's unclear when that vehicle will go into production, or what it will cost.
GM didn't say where the Ampera-e would be built. But it seems very likely that it will be built in the same Orion, Michigan plant that is being configured to build the Bolt.
What this means for GM and its shareholders: Simply put, it means more sales for GM's new electric car, which should help offset the investment that GM made to develop it.
GM doesn't seem to be expecting the Chevy Bolt EV to sell in massive volumes. Supplier sources hinted last year that GM's assembly line for the new Bolt is being set up with an annual volume of just 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles in mind. And it was clearly developed with ride sharing in mind, perhaps because that would guarantee an audience for the new electric car: GM's recent $500 million investment in Lyft might will be followed by a way to make it worthwhile for Lyft drivers to purchase a Bolt.
At least until GM's production capacity for the Bolt (and Ampera-e) is maxed out, any additional sales will surely be welcomed. It makes complete sense for GM to offer a very lightly retrimmed version to European buyers via its German subsidiary.
What's next for GM and the Opel Ampera-e: GM will release more specifics on the Ampera-e and on the Bolt EV as it gets closer to starting production in the fourth quarter.