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Fleet car could ignite a spark in damp electric vehicle market

16 January 2014

Dr Daniel Newman, Research Assistant, Sustainable Places Research Institute

Original published on The Conversation on the 10th January 2014

Green car

The announcement came at New Year that David Cameron's cabinet members might be about to trade in their limousines for electric vehicles.

Such a move would make the UK government the world's first to run a fleet of all-electric ministerial cars. This push adds to announcements from the end of last year that set a £10m prize for innovators who could produce a more efficient battery, and a dedicated £5m pot for testing the use of electric cars in the public sector.

This fresh approach builds on existing commitments of £400m put aside to encourage consumers to buy electric vehicles, the centre-piece of which was the plug-in car grant introduced in 2011 that allowed buyers to claim back 25% of the value of a new electric car, up to a limit of £5,000. However, less than a third of that pot has been spent as consumers were reluctant to buy. It's made the government's supposed "year of the electric car" a bit of a damp squib.

A little over 5,700 cars have been funded through the grant since it began, which is about one in every 1,000 cars sold in Britain. In addition to funding battery-powered electric vehicles, the grant also funds hybrid electrics vehicles. These have had more success than purely electric vehicles – the iconic Toyota Prius for example, which uses electricity to power the engine for parts of the journey (typically, the start), and conventional fuel for the majority.

In terms of total cars on the road, the UK has 4,100 wholly electric and 125,300 hybrid electric cars on the road, from a total of 31,998,700 – just 0.04%. Even adding another 3,200 electric or hybrid vans, this is way off even a single percent of the UK's road vehicles.

So the UK lags far behind other European nations such as Norway, which boasts twice as many electric cars serving a population only a tenth the size (and a cold climate that can affect lithium battery life), or France with a similar population to the UK but nearly three times as many electric cars. In this case, the reason for such poor take-up in Britain may well lie with less generous incentives than in Norway, and/or a less comprehensive infrastructure compared to that in France.

Read the full article at The Conversation.