The other side of electric car subsidies

20 April 2009

Hoon, Brown, Mandelson and an electric MiniNo doubt BMW, Smart, Renault-Nissan and other makers of electric cars that you can’t actually buy are delighted by the government’s mooted plan for subsidies, which will see taxpayers coughing up cash to help with the crippling likely cost of their long-awaited wares. We are promised a £2,000 to £5,000 windfall when we buy an electric or plug-in hybrid car but, much like the Mini-E or Smart ED, we can’t actually have one yet.

Today Reva, maker of electric car-like objects that you can actually buy and drive, has cried foul. It complains that the government’s announcement, designed to promote interest in electric motoring among the great unwashed, will actually do the reverse. In a statement Reva’s European top dog Keith Johnston said, “The Government’s announcement that a UK grant will be available, but not until 2011, will only create a sales vacuum for two years and cause widespread damage to the fledgling UK EV business, already fragile as a result of the recession.”

We can’t help but see the logic behind Johnston’s stance, particularly given that the government has said currently available vehicles like the G-Wiz won’t qualify for the handout, presumably for being not enough like a proper car.

If our leaders had set out to create a plan designed to promote the interests of the large automakers and to kill off innovation and entrepreneurial spirit among the little guys, they could scarcely have done a better job.

And even when judged by the yardstick of politicians’ promises, this postponed pledge appears especially empty. Does anyone seriously expect that the Labour government will be in power to enact its incentive in 2011? And, as we saw with the transition between red Ken and blue Boris in London, even well-developed and imminent changes to transport policy can be scrapped without justification by an incoming administration.

So forgive us for not breaking out the champagne just yet.

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