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Frankfurt show: Opel’s radical two-seater experiment

Car meets bike: Four-wheel Opel two-seater looks more like a motorcycle than a car.

Australia-bound Opel to reveal a futuristic two-seat commuter concept next week

Opel logo8 Sep 2011

By MARTON PETTENDY

OPEL has made the shock announcement it will unveil this radical two-seater city-car concept at next week’s Frankfurt motor show, rather than the pint-size ‘Junior’ hatchback that was widely expected to debut at the biennial German auto fair.

The surprising move will see General Motors’ European brand, Opel, which will be reintroduced in Australia via Holden in the second half of next year, join a procession of European car-makers to reveal their vision for personal urban transport in the future.

They include arch-rival Volkswagen and its gullwinged single-seat EV concept, Nils, Audi and its two-seater EV, the Urban Concept, BMW with its plug-in i3 city-hatch and Daimler with Smart’s two-seater Forvision show car.

Like the VW Group’s Nils and Urban Concept, Opel’s "experimental" concept - dubbed 'RAK e' - is an open-wheeler of sorts, but rides on four motorcycle tyres separated by extremely narrow wheel tracks, with a pair of independently sprung rear wheels on swingarms that make it look more like a motorcycle than a car at the back.

The front suspension breaks new ground too, with a unique independent arrangement comprising horizontal spring-struts at either side, while the front-end is braked by callipers that grip rotors mounted to the wheel rims rather than the hubs.

Opel says its high-tech electric car concept, which was inspired by its Volt-based Ampera plug-in hybrid, “has production potential” and could “create a new class of light-weight, zero-emissions electric vehicles in the UK and Europe”.

Few details have so far been revealed for the battery-powered tandem two-seater, which is claimed to have a top speed of 120km/h, “making the odd motorway trip feasible”, and a zero-emissions driving range of almost 100km.

52 center imageFrom top: Opel concept, Astra GTC, Zafira Tourer, Combo.

Despite its strikingly high-tech appearance, Opel says the low-slung city-EV “could revolutionise urban transport, especially for younger drivers and those on a very tight budget”, because its low construction costs will make it "highly affordable" for young drivers including teenagers.

GM’s Euro brand also says the concept will be practical despite its rakish appearance and compact proportions, while a kerb weight that is claimed to be about a third of a modern small car’s will also make it agile and fun to drive.

We won’t hold our breaths for a production version to hit showrooms in the near future, but if GM gives it the green light Opel’s four-wheeled electric 'bike' would join the range beneath the light-sized Corsa hatchback, which will open Opel’s born-again Australian range next year.

Holden has confirmed Opel’s 2012 local introduction, which took another step closer this week with the appointment of 16-year Opel veteran Bill Mott as managing director of Opel Australia from November 1, will comprise three core models in the Corsa, Astra and Insignia, a facelifted version of which was revealed last month.

As we’ve reported, GM last month launched Opel’s official Australian website, the showroom section of which features the Corsa three-door, Astra five-door, Astra Sports Tourer wagon, Insignia sedan, Insignia Sports Tourer wagon and the Meriva compact people-mover.

Featured in its concept car section is the Astra GTC Coupe (but not the forthcoming Australian-designed Astra convertible), which is odds-on to top the reborn Astra range here next year and will debut in final production form at Frankfurt next week, when Opel will also reveal its next-generation Zafira Tourer seven-seat people-mover, which is also likely to be sold here.

However, there is no sign of Europe’s upcoming Ampera, which Holden has confirmed will not top the Opel range here because of its mechanical similarities to the Volt (due in Holden showrooms in 2012), and it is also unlikely Opel’s yet-to-appear Mini-rivalling ‘Junior’ hatch will hit Australian roads.

Opel’s redesigned Combo, which will also debut at Frankfurt, is under consideration for Australia, but it is not yet clear whether the compact van – or the larger Movano and Vivaro commercials – will be sold alongside the Opel passenger car range that GM will aim directly at Volkswagen buyers.

Watch this space for full coverage of the four world debuts and seven new Ecoflex models scheduled to emerge from Opel’s redesigned 3200 square-metre exhibit at Frankfurt next week, as well as first drives of the core models that will be available here in about 12 months.

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