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Britain’s Electric Car Revolution In Danger Of Breaking Down

Mary Griffin, Coventry Telegraph

Coventry has proudly been leading the roll out of electric cars. But a recent report slammed incentive schemes and suggested it has been a flop.

MILLIONS of pounds have been invested in boosting electric cars across the Midlands.

The CABLED (Coventry and Birmingham Low Emission Vehicle Demonstrators) project saw Coventry City Council join a consortium of car manufacturers and universities to carry out a year-long trial of more than 100 electric cars as part of a £25 million scheme.

And two years later, the region secured £3 million to install 500 new charging points.

But a recent report found that only 100 of these were ever installed – and a database showing drivers where to find them was riddled with errors.

It also claimed that while time and money was being invested in the trial of electric vehicles, a government incentive offering up to £5,000 off the price of electric cars was only being used by a handful of affluent customers who could afford the cars without being subsidised.

The report by the Commons Transport Committee has slammed efforts to boost electric cars across the UK, saying demand is still low and efforts to stimulate consumer interest have backfired.

Mike Boxwell, of Ryton, was part of the CABLED trial, driving a Mitsubishi I-Miev.

He became one of the first people in the region to drive an electric car when he invested in an early G-Wiz and has put his experience to use, writing the 2012 Electric Car Guide.

He believes manufacturers need to drastically change their strategy if we are ever to see the electric car market take off.

“The big manufacturers are assuming that electric vehicles are just normal cars with electric motors and batteries in them,” he says.

“But if you look at what people are buying – nobody wants an electric car.

“Last year there were 84,000 electric vehicles sold in the UK, yet almost all of them were electric bicycles.

“People are using them for short journeys into town and for average five-day-a-week commuting as an alternative to cars.

“They’ve absolutely mushroomed in popularity.”

Mike says electric works best when it’s focused on smaller vehicles, used for shorter journeys.

And while manufacturers strive to make electric cars look like standard combustion engine models, he believes they’d fare better if they concentrated on making the price comparable. He says: “If you had a car like the Smart but electric powered it could be built very cheaply and very easily.

“The G-Wiz, for example, is an ugly looking car, very basic and crude, but in London they’ve sold more than the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi I-Miev, Renault and Peugeot electric cars combined.

“The reason is that it’s cheap at £8,000 – and also exempt from the congestion charge.”

He adds: “Fundamentally the issue is that we’ve got the wrong products.

“These cars need to cost £13,000, not £23,000.”

Nigel Berkeley, professor of local economic development at Coventry University, was invited to give evidence to the Commons Transport Committee. He was highly critical of attempts to spark electric car take-up and recommended more creative ideas to make low carbon cars a more accessible market – but he stopped short of saying the Government had wasted money on the trials.

He says: “The Government had a well intentioned policy of offering up to £5,000 off the vehicle price.

“But these cars are retailing at about £30,000, so even with the subsidy, it’s still an expensive product.

“The main problem was that they introduced the grant at a time when not enough was known about electric vehicles – manufacturers were still testing, the price was prohibitive and there wasn’t much choice.”

Instead of offering money off the sale price, he argued that the government could offer incentives to companies to buy electric cars for their fleets or launch try-before-you-buy community rental schemes, giving drivers the chance to get to grips with electric cars because, according to Prof Berkeley, consumer confidence is key.

Coventry Telegraph, 7 November 2012