UK government consults on electric car incentives

24 October 2008

G-Wiz in the West End, chargingOn Monday, government officials and industry experts will get together to see if they can work out how to promote the growth of electric cars in the UK. Ahead of the meeting, business minister Ian Pearson said, "Currently, less than 0.1 per cent of the UK's 26 million cars are electric ... We need to act now to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of this new industry. The development of electric vehicle technology is an opportunity for the UK to take the lead and, given the state of the global economy, we need to seize that opportunity."

Pearson’s figure, low as it is, probably inflates the UK’s electric car fleet by a factor of ten. According to Reva, maker of the world’s most numerous electric car, about 1,000 of its G-Wiz runabouts are currently on UK roads, which is about 0.004% of the 26 million. We suspect the real total, including milk floats, probably totals less than 0.01% - or one in 10,000.

Far be it from us to pre-empt Monday’s discussion, but money always helps. Earlier this month the French government pledged €400m (about £310m) to help carmaker Renault and French energy firm EDF get a nationwide recharging network off the ground by 2011. Other countries, including Italy and India, continue to offer financial incentives to buyers of electric vehicles, whereas the UK’s PowerShift grant programme evaporated back in March 2005 - when oil still cost less than $50 a barrel and if you bought a Prius people were prone to whisper “Should have gone to Specsavers” behind your back.

According to Chetan Maini, chief technologist at Reva, the one thing EV entrepreneurs want from governments is long-term certainty about any incentives. It doesn’t matter if there is a timetable for removing a tax rebate, he told us recently, as long as that schedule is clear and, preferably, that the phasing out is gradual. Playing fields that tip suddenly and without warning – like Ken Livingstone’s political twisting of the London Congestion Charge, thankfully scuppered by his successor – tend to send investors running.

So whatever the horse-traders come up with on Monday, let it be something with legs, please.

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