FRANKFURT -- General Motors Co.'s Opel/Vauxhall unit is delaying deliveries of its Ampera plug-in hybrid to European customers, as investigations continue by U.S. authorities into three battery fires following government crash tests of the car's sister model, the Chevrolet Volt.
''We are not currently delivering the cars to customers while we set up the process to deal with these highly charged batteries to make sure they are safe,'' an Opel spokesman told Automotive News Europe.
Opel has already begun delivering the Ampera to dealerships in Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland. In June, Opel said the Ampera would be on the European market by the end of the year.
A Vauxhall spokeswoman told ANE that the Ampera is still on course for a previously planned UK launch in May.
The Ampera is built alongside the Volt at GM's Hamtramck plant near Detroit, in the U.S. Both cars share the same technology including the lithium-ion batteries that power the electric motor, but have different body styling. GM says 10,000 Amperas will be available to European markets next year.
European sales of the Volt began last week with the delivery of the first two cars to the U.S. embassy in Paris. A Chevrolet spokesman said the crash-test fires had no impact on the Volt's European rollout. The cars are already arriving at European dealerships, the spokesman told ANE.
Sales of the Volt began in the U.S. in 2010.
Like the Volt, the Ampera, which costs 42,900 euros in Germany, will be powered by electricity at all times. For the first 40km to 80 km (25 to 50 miles), the drivetrain is powered by electricity stored in the 16-kilowatt lithium ion battery pack. For longer trips a gasoline-fueled engine/generator charges the battery and extends the driving range to 500km (300 miles).
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began a safety investigation after a Volt caught fire three weeks after a side-impact crash test in May, while parked at a testing center in Wisconsin. Authorities then carried out further tests on three more Volt battery packs last month, resulting in two more fires, NHTSA said Nov. 25.
GM says it has has opted to use a less volatile battery chemistry for the Chevrolet Spark EV, which will go on sale in 2013, although it says the current investigation isn't centered on battery cell chemistry.
''The probe is focused on pack design and any fix would likely involve the pack,'' Randy Fox, a GM spokesman said.
The lithium metal oxide batteries in the Volt and Ampera are supplied by South Korea's LG Chem Ltd., but in the Spark, GM has chosen to use phosphate-based lithium-ion batteries from U.S.-based A123 Systems Inc. These are less likely to burn than other lithium chemistry.
The trade-off with phosphate-based lithium-ion batteries is that they store less energy and therefore need to be bigger.
A123 is also supplying BMW with lithium-phosphate batteries for its ActiveHybrid 5 and ActiveHybrid 3 models, the first of which goes on sale in March.
Bloomberg contributed to this report