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Brits give electric cars a $50 million shot in the arm

Plugged in: Mitsubishi is trialling its i-MiEV electric car in the UK with the help of government funding.

British government announces funding for real-world EV trials to hasten development

25 Jun 2009

THE British government announced a £25 million ($A51.4 million) ‘low-carbon vehicle’ program this week that provides funding for real-world trials of electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in electric hybrid cars.

Billed as the biggest of its kind in the world, the program will operate across eight locations in the UK and sees cash metered out to eight consortia, which bring together a number of car manufacturers, power companies, regional development agencies, councils and universities.

Around 340 vehicles will be involved in the trials, including development cars from big-name manufacturers such as Toyota (Prius PHV), Mitsubishi (i-MiEV), Mercedes-Benz (Smart EV), the BMW Group (Mini E) and Ford (Focus BEV).

Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover and JLR parent Tata Motors are also involved, using development vehicles still to be specified, along with smaller operators such as Allied Vehicles (using converted Peugeot models) and an EV sportscar consortium which includes Delta Motorsport, Ecotricity Cars, Westfield Sports Cars, Green-Motion and the Lightning Car Company.

Some trials are already underway, although the majority will hit the road within the next six to 18 months.

21 center imageFrom top: Smart ForTwo EV, Mini E, Toyota Prius Plug-in and an EDF recharge 'juice point' (bottom).

According to British science minister Paul Drayson, the aim of the funding is to accelerate the availability of “innovative low-carbon cars” – primarily EVs – to consumers, adding to the private investments already made and helping the government achieve its target of an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

“Today’s announcement signals our intent to reduce our dependence on petrol- and diesel-based engines, and determine the best practical alternatives,” Lord Drayson said.

“Government and consumer demand for more environmentally friendly vehicles is already creating business opportunities for established industry players and innovative new entrants.”

British transport secretary Andrew Adonis said the government wanted Britain to be at the forefront of ultra-low-carbon automotive technology, “blazing a trail for environmentally friendly transportation”.

“Central to our plans is the stimulation of demand for low-carbon cars through projects like this to test the technology and give motorists the opportunity to feedback the information needed to make greener motoring a reality,” Lord Adonis said.

“Our aim is for ultra-low-carbon vehicles to be an everyday feature of life on Britain’s roads in less than five years. This is a challenging target and there is still a long way to go. However, if we continue to work closely with motorists and the industry with initiatives like the demonstrations project, I believe it is achievable.”

This latest initiative follows the British government’s announcement in April that it would provide £250 million ($A513.7 million) in subsidies from 2011 to encourage consumers to purchase EVs.

Meanwhile, Renault moved a step closer this week to its target of producing an EV by 2011 with the signing of an agreement on a recharging system with energy company EDF.

Having forged an alliance with EDF last October, Renault this week named the French power company as its partner on a so-called “power line communications” (PLC) system that will enable communication between recharge terminals and EVs.

The EDF-developed technology ensures the secure exchange of data between the recharge terminal and vehicle, including vehicle identification and billing details. Renault, in turn, will ensure the system integrates with its future EVs.

“This is a concrete step forward that will contribute to the development of the electric vehicle market in France,” Renault said in a statement.

The French car-maker is working with alliance partner Nissan on the development of EVs, and the pair has signed some 30 agreements worldwide with a range of partners to launch its first EV in 2010 ahead of mass-marketing a full range in 2012.

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