Special Coverage

Geneva
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General Motors’ Adam Opel unit will premier a pair of vehicles at next week’s Geneva auto show, including a production version of the Ampera extended-range electric vehicle and a concept hinting the upcoming Zafira redesign.

Ampera photography reveals a car closely resembling its U.S. cousin, the Chevy Volt, but with slightly nuanced tail lamps, a front clip featuring the more aggressive Opel grille and the addition of a pair of saber-like casings dripping off the headlamps into its running lights.

The Ampera also features a set of unique wheels suggesting a flower, which would follow the EREV’s environmentally friendly reputation.

Production and sale of the Volt to select U.S. markets got under way in November at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. It’s unclear how many Amperas GM will build this year, but the schedule calls for at least 15,000 units of production with 5,000 earmarked for export.

However, China will get the Volt ahead of the Ampera’s arrival in Europe later this year. Ampera production is expected to shift to the U.K. sometime in 2012.

Opel says about 400 Europeans have expressed interest in buying an Ampera, a less enthusiastic reception than the thousands of hand raisers for the Volt in the U.S.

But the car promises the same 50 miles (80 km) of travel under battery power, plus another 250 miles (402 km) using the range-extending internal-combustion engine.

Opel also elects to send the first Amperas to a small group of testers, including tech experts and popular personalities. The British singer Katie Melua will travel in an Ampera on her European tour beginning in March.

In most markets the Ampera will cost €42,900 ($58,961). In Germany, the car will cost €36,050 ($49,546). Pricing in the U.S. for the Chevy Volt twin starts at $41,000.

Opel also will show a Zafira Tourer concept car, hinting at the Bochum, Germany-built production version of the 7-passenger MPV due out late this year or early 2012 as a key cog in the German auto maker’s massive restructuring plan.

The rebuilding calls for four new products this year carrying the Opel and Vauxhall badge, and refreshing more than 80% of the unit’s portfolio by the end of 2012. Opel lost $1.8 billion last year as part of its restructuring and GM says the goal is to put the unit back at breakeven by the end of this year.

Opel designers call the Zafira concept “a lounge on wheels,” due to the monocab’s “light, airy, high-class interior” with “generous space” for occupants.

“We have transferred the idea of a relaxing lounge to a vehicle and created an automobile wellness oasis, a place to relax and enjoy,” Mark Adams, vice president-design at Opel, says in a statement.

“Passengers can retreat in the lounge. It is a comfortable, roomy space where you really want to be – regardless if it’s for a business trip or to relax for a long journey.”

The Zafira hangs much of its popularity on a flexible seating arrangement, where its third row folds flush into the rear cargo area. But the concept takes that idea a step further, where with the push of a button the middle-row seat folds into an armrest for outboard passengers.

The middle row also slides aft a few inches, and electrically powered headrests rotate 90 degrees with outer sections folding inward and foot rests folding out from the seat bottom imitating the business class section on an airline.

A panoramic glass roof with LED lighting covers the concept car, whose exterior is meant to suggest a high-speed train.

But as compact entry off GM’s latest Delta small-car architecture, it’s unclear how many of the concept’s luxurious touches will make it to production.

A 1.4L turbocharged gasoline engine with start/stop function powers the Zafira Tourer.

GM also plans to show a production version of the Chevy Cruze hatchback, which bowed last year in Paris, and goes on sale in Europe in the spring. It will be a key car for Chevy’s continued growth in Europe, where hatchbacks account for 65% of compact-car sales.

The redesigned Chevy Aveo also will make its first appearance on European soil at Geneva. The 4-door made its world premier at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. In the U.S., the car is called the Sonic.

Cadillac will show the CTS-V Sport Wagon, already on the streets in the U.S. but an important halo for the brand’s return to a region smitten with high-powered wagons.

jamend@wardsauto.com