Mixed reception to UK's plans for green cars

by GreenWire.org.uk. Published Thu 16 Apr 2009 14:19
GM's Volt to be supported with UK programme
GM's Volt to be supported with UK programme

UK motorists will be offered subsidies of up to £5,000 to encourage them to buy electric or plug-in hybrid cars under plans announced by the government.

It is part of the government's £250million plan to promote low carbon transport over the next five years.

The car industry welcomed the plan, but critics said the government needed to invest more in places to recharge the vehicles and in public transport.

The Green Party pointed out the UK has yet to launch a pilot programme while Denmark (with around one-tenth of the UK's population) is already committed to 20,000 recharge points for a nationwide system of electric cars, with Israel, Portugal and Japan close behind

And the Greens claim the focus on electric vehicles doesn’t take into account our need to reduce traffic for reasons other than emissions. They say low-carbon traffic congestion will still be traffic congestion and will continue to cost UK businesses billions every year.

The UK Government's strategy includes plans to provide £20million for charging points and other necessary infrastructure.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said that there was huge potential to reduce emissions, with less than 0.1% of the UK's 26 million cars now electric.

The available funding would only be for fully electric and plug-in petrol-electric hybrids. As such, currently commercially available hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, would not be eligible.

There is a limited range of electric vehicles currently available, and sales have been held back by a number of factors: They commonly have a limited range of about 40 miles, take about seven hours to charge, and have only two seats.

Modern lithium-ion batteries have already been installed in prototype cars, such as the Mini E, which handles like an ordinary car and offers a range of 150 miles. But the batteries are huge, so the car has no back seats.

Plug-in petrol-electric hybrids will soon offer five-seat alternatives. In these, a petrol engine takes over once the battery has run out. This is the solution favoured by Toyota.

Alternatively, a small petrol engine charges the battery whilst driving - the General Motors solution.

Either way, in the future motorists will increasingly buy power from electricity companies rather than from the oil industry.

But the government hopes to target drivers of a new generation of all electric or plug-in petrol-electric cars, which are expected to go on sale in two years time.

Speaking at Knockhill Racing Circuit in Dunfermline, Geoff Hoon said the plan was about "encouraging the idea that electric vehicles will become part of everyday life, that people will take them for granted and they will look and feel the same as any other car".

But the Green Party said there was no point in running clean electric cars on dirty electricity.

Professor John Whitelegg, the party's spokesperson on sustainable development, said today: "Tokenism just won't wash. We need commitment to serious policies.

"It was always disingenuous to put a greenish tinge on the Budget. But with the climate crisis deepening, anything less than a solid commitment to a very low-carbon future is downright irresponsible.

"Britain needs massive investment in the whole emissions-reduction package - from green transport policies to green energy. That's the way to tackle the recession and the climate crisis in one go."

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