2012 Chevrolet Volt (Vauxhall Ampera) Drives From U.K. To France, Underground

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2012 Vauxhall Ampera

2012 Vauxhall Ampera

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Last week, the Chevrolet Volt became the first production car to drive from the U.K. to France, using the service tunnel of the Eurotunnel underwater railway line between the two European countries.

What’s more, the stunt was orchestrated by Top Gear Magazine, the more measured, printed sibling of the hit T.V. show hardly known for its love of electric cars

As GM’s British arm Vauxhall detailed last week, Top Gear Magazine approached the automaker with the idea to drive a Vauxhall Ampera--the U.K. version of the Volt-- from London, England to Calais, France, and back, without refueling. 

Obtaining special permission from Eurotunnel, the company responsible for maintaing the subterranean high speed rail link between France and England, Top Gear’s Dan Read was able to drive a road-going Ampera along the service tunnels normally reserved for Eurotunnel’s maintenance and emergency vehicles. 

The only catch? Read had to ensure the Ampera stayed in all-electric mode while it remained underground.

Using the charge hold function--standard on all European Volts but only introduced in the U.S. for the 2013 model year--Read left London using gasoline power only. 

On approach to Dover, where the tunnel starts, he switched to electric mode, using the battery pack to glide along the Eurotunnel’s 31.4-mile length. 

At its lowest point, Read was 250 feet below sea level.

2012 Vauxhall Ampera

2012 Vauxhall Ampera

Enlarge Photo

While the Eurotunnel’s twin rail tunnels are 25 feet in diameter, 98 feet apart, the service tunnel Read travelled down was only 16 foot in diameter, and situated between the two rail tunnels. 

While electric trains zipped by on the main tunnels at speeds approaching 100 mph, Read--we assume--kept his speed a little slower. 

That’s because he managed to make the entire return trip from Dover to Calais and back--some 63 miles--without using any gasoline. 

That’s far larger than the official EPA all-electric Volt range of 38 miles, although we suspect minimal drag in the tunnel helped improve range.

If this story sounds familiar however, don’t worry. Back in 2009, a prototype Ginetta G50 sportscar became the first all-electric car to drive the length of the EuroTunnel. 

The Volt is the second electric car to make the trip, but since the G50 was a prototype, the first production plug-in car. 

Could you cope with driving a Volt underground for 63 miles with only its battery pack for power? Or do you think you’d just end up with a severe case of tunnel vision? 

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (6)
  1. That is impressive.

    But I think the lower air resistance is helping it a lot. I know I can reduce my drag by following a tractor trailer. It will increase my range by 4 miles in a 23 mile drive.

    Also, how long did it take to complete this round trip? at what speed?

  2. i suspect clicking in cruise control and not having to brake would do more for extended battery range then anything else.

  3. It’s been no secret that new Hybrids or PHEVs like the Volt get much better mileage than the EPA rating in real life.
    It’s important to remember that the EPA rating is built to favor gas guzzlers and it simply doesn’t reflect real life. Part of this is the highway speeds and flat terrain of the EPA testing model, combined with an unrealistic City test cycle that has been tuned specifically for gas guzzlers, and the use of specially trained test drivers. In a real city driving, with stop and go traffic, the volt ( or any hybrid ) rules, easily exceeding the EPA rating. Gas guzzlers rarely meet their EPA rating in real life.
    We need new real standards that reflect real life!

  4. I don't know what the air pressure is inside the service tunnel, but I guess it would be kept higher than the train tunnels to prevent any smoke from a train accident entering the service tunnel. Add the -75 m elevation and the air resistance might have been (very slightly) higher than during EPA testing.

    What did help consumption is the complete lack of turbulence which disturbs the laminar flow around the car. In essence, you are driving in perfect wind tunnel conditions.

  5. Cheap publicity stunt. Regular public obviously is not allowed to drive the length of the tunnel.

    What they did implies that it could be done with the Volt. OK, it can be done. And?

  6. I am very curious to read how the automatic-only, sedan-only, gasoline-electric-only Opel Ampera will fare on the continent of quiet, powerful, manual transmission, clean diesel station wagons.

    I am really curious to see how many Europeans will reach for a car clearly inferior alternative to the abundance of modern, high-tech clean diesel choices in every make and model they have available. Really curious.

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