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First look: Opel Flextreme breaks new ground

Disconnected: Turbo-diesel engine in GM's green machine re-charges the lithium-ion battery, but range is still a paltry 55km.

Frankfurt proves that green is the new black

12 Sep 2007

THERE was plenty of environmental posturing at the Frankfurt show and General Motors used its European brand Opel to premiere the Flextreme concept – an electric vehicle with the fascinating inclusion of a 1.3-litre turbo-diesel engine that is not connected to the wheels.

Instead, the conventional engine’s only role is to generate electricity to recharge the lithium-ion battery that supplies power to the electric motor. The car can also be recharged in three hours by plugging into a regular power outlet.

This “E-Flex” combination was considered a clever option given the restricted driving range that comes with electric-only power – in this case, only 55km.

Styling-wise, the Flextreme is a new interpretation of the design language that surfaced on the Opel GTC Coupe at the Geneva show earlier this year. It features rear “suicide” doors, a large transparent roof and two tailgate doors that open from the side and swing upwards.

This is the third E-Flex iteration, the previous versions having been presented earlier this year at the Detroit show in January (with a 1.0-litre petrol rather than diesel engine) and the Shanghai show in April (with a hydrogen fuel cell).

52 center imageGM is serious about bringing this new technology to market, but says that the timetable for series production is closely tied to the development of key technologies, such as high-performance lithium-ion batteries.

“We fully intend to bring this technology to market,” said E-Flex Chief Engineer Frank Weber, “and we’re increasingly confident that our strategic battery partners will be able to deliver a production-ready battery in the near future.” Opel believes that the 55km range on electric power alone is well within the needs of most European daily commuters as they can travel to work and back without using any fuel.

The Astra-sourced 1.3-litre CDTi diesel engine charges the batteries when they are empty and no plug-in facility is available.

Opel says the Flextreme is a clear reflection of its latest design language, with narrow boomerang-shaped lights and a sloping swage line in the side.

Transparent polycarbonate panels over the grille and wheels are designed to improve aerodynamics without altering the look of the vehicle.

The large boomerang-like curved front light units not only house the LED headlamps, but also the fog lamps and air intakes for brake cooling.

Opel’s designers continued this optical illusion at the rear. At first glance, the concept car appears to have no tail-lights, but they are integrated into the tailgates and hidden behind glass.

The 4555mm-long body employs lightweight polycarbonate panels and incorporates some innovative new loading systems.

The ‘Flexload’ luggage compartment allows access through a pair of butterfly-style rear tailgate doors that swing open upwards along the car’s central axis, making the tailgate accessible from the side of the vehicle where space is tight.

In line with the electric theme, the Flextreme also carries a pair of Segway ‘personal transporters’, which have a range of 38km. Their batteries are recharged by the turbo-diesel engine along with the car’s main battery.

The Segways have been modified to slide neatly into the rear of the vehicle and can be quickly released from the luggage compartment with a twist of the handlebars.

The interior features strong and light honeycomb structures, while a large panoramic screen (1.2 metres wide and 10cm high) located under the windscreen and a second display in the centre console display all the usual information as well as images from four external cameras.

Interestingly, a touch-screen transmission drive selector gate allows drive, park and reverse gears to be selected at the touch of a finger.

And a novel storage system enables front and rear passengers to stow items such as mobile phones, MP3 players, iPods and PDAs – which are then automatically recharged.

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