UK government finally publicy announces support for Plug ins, but from 2011.

At a rather subdued Knockhill race-track in Scotland, UK Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and UK Transport Minister Geoff Hoon announced a plan to support Plug In vehicles, not only buying them but “Building them”.
Mr Hoon and Lord Mandelson also had the privaledge to take one of BMW’s Mini E around the Scottish track, publising the Government’s plans to offer a subsidy of between £2,000 and £5,000 to car owners wishing to buy a new EV or PHEV from 2011 onwards. The plan also includes a £20m kitty to pay for the installation of more charging points and infrastrucutre to help Brits go green. Mr Hoon said “”The scale of incentives we’re announcing today will mean that an electric car is a real option for motorists as well as helping to make the UK a world leader in low carbon transport.”

EVs charging at Cribbs Causeway, Bristol
EVs charging at Cribbs Causeway, Bristol

Photo by John Honniball
More thoughts on this news after the jump

The plans are a start to something big, but it was given a luke-warm reception by the mainstream press who of course included interviews with BMW’s UK director, who quite happily told the reporter of the issues that EVs have with range, battery performance and size. Of course, it may be a sound-bite gone wrong, but that’s hardly positive spin. The BBC also dealt with the obvious naysayers who spoke of the generation issues. (Check out my past blog busting the telegraph EV myths)
At the moment there’s not all that many choices for the UK EV owner. Many of my friends abroad tell me how good England has it, with at least four commercial choices for people wanting to own an EV. But at the moment we’re still waiting for a high-speed vehicle. The G-Wiz is the fastest commercial vehicle on the market (unless of course, you include the Tesla – which is out of all but the wealthiest pockets). And that’s the rub. Until the industry can produce faster, more mainstream-looking vehicles this government grant scheme won’t take off. Perhaps then, this is why the scheme isn’t set to launch until 2011. It will give the industry time to adjust. I’m assuming that the UK government will use the intervening time to help bring some EVs to the market which are fast, cool, and desirable. Oh, and the right price. The best we can hope for is that vehicles coming to the market in two years time (look to the iMiev, Smart ED and possibly Volt and Prius PHEV) will be close enough to a petrol-priced car that people will consider buying one. The £2,000 to £5,000 grant will at least help bridge the gap between a petrol car and a slightly more expensive plug in.
Why do I say more expensive? Well, at the moment it’s about economy of scale. The only way that EVs will get cheaper is if enough are built; if enough vehicles come off the production line. Of course, it’ll also help a great deal if Governmnents and private investors plough money in. These two things combined will really help us move forward. The UK Government’s plans will really help that. If the UK government offers tax breaks, insentives and assistance to EV and PHEV producing companies then perhaps we’ll have a chance to change the way people move around.
Many EV advocates view the move to Plug ins as a battle. I wouldn’t use quite that terminology, since I don’t believe that statement to be quite true. It’s not so much a battle as an evolution. I’m perfectly convinced that a plug in vehicle is an evolutionary step forwards. Bearing that in mind, I think that perhaps now we can evolve our transport a little quicker given this scheme.
The hope I have is that every major world goverment will see the same opourtinuty and pledge the same things that both the USA and now the UK have announced. Actions are louder than words of course, so it’ll be very interesting to see who follows through and who falls by the wayside. As someone who was convinced a long time ago that plug in vehicles were the way forward I can’t really tell you just how happy I am about the news. But I’m also wary. I’ve heard of all sorts of good thigns in the past. Good things which are now hollow promises and faint memories.
With the move towards plug ins getting another push today we just all have to keep spreading the word. If you own a plug in, make sure you tell your friends, family and colleagues how brilliant it is. Give as many people a chance to have a ride and have that EV grin. If you don’t already have a plug in then why not try and have a ride in one. Just don’t make it a small, pokey little one. Spread the word! And then maybe we’ll all be able to collect our new electric car in 2011.
For now though, there’s a lot of misinformation. There’s a lot of confusion. Even the mighty Times Newspaper got confused about electric cars, calling the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius Electric. They’re not. They’re hybrids. Without a plug, they’re just a regular gas-powered car with better gas mileage than most petrol vehicles. With a plug, they’re plug in hybrids, capable of very high efficiency and all-round-town electric-only mode. The plug makes a huge difference. With or without an engine too, a plug in vehicle is the one which will make waves in our future transport and help us get off the oil we’re so terribly addicted to. The plug is the thing which paves the way for a future transportation structure without petrol pumps, without dirty oil and perhaps without so many conflicts about dead animals… Without a Plug, you shouldn’t buy. As Plug in America put it:

“No Plug, No Deal!


I said it wasn’t a battle. But some of my friends would say that the battle is not yet won. And for once, I’d agree with them.

4 Comments

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  1. Hi Nikki, following your celebrity host appearances on EV-cast I feel like I and lots of others out here already know you! I wanted to comment on the UK incentive programme. I like the number – same as the US to within a small margin. I feel its a large enough number to allow vendors to come close to the price of an ICE vehicle. However, I am really concerned with the "not until 2011" approach. The US managed to get a scheme in place from January 1st 2009. We in the UK have to wait until (I presume) the start of the new tax year in April 2011. In the meantime this is liable to delay (not accelerate) the introduction by manufacturers of EVs into the UK. Think of it this way. Thanks to you I looked at the iMiEV, liked it and decided to put down a deposit. I was told chances are the car will not be available to me at the end of 2009 – all of that batch are allocated to local government buyers. But chances are good for Q2 2010. But hang on – in April 2010 the car costs me £5000 more than if I buy it in April 2011. So maybe I'll just wait. And if every buyer does that, the iMiEV could be stillborn in the UK. Add to that list Think, Mini E, Smart ED, Ginetta, Liberty E-Cars, …. – not saying all of them would have offered cars for sale in the UK – but now they for sure will wait until 2011. Additionally, "non mainstream" cars are excluded, as are Qudricycles. So Mega City, G-Wiz and Tesla Roadster (the only real EV options a non-DIY driver has today, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum of cost and performance) are all ruled out from support. And, unlike the US, there is no sign of support for conversions. In the US there are grants applicable to conversions. (I may well resort to a Plug-In conversion of my 2005 Prius. I am not a DIY person at all so I will get it done professionally.) So how does the government's initiative accelerate the electrification of road transport in the UK? Not at all.

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  2. This is really troubling news. Where did you find out the extra information? I did try but hit a bit of a brick wall. If non-mainstream cars aren't included then we really are up the creek without a paddle. Perhaps this is the time we step up to the plate and let the UK government know that in order for the plan to work we really do need more incentive, more choice and a quicker start. After all, 2011 is still two years away… I think you've just given me the next post today. Thanks.

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  3. It's too late tonight but I will try trace back to original sources tomorrow. Andrew

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  4. I largely agree Tom, and I relaly like making Leadership #1.I remember President Obama, as an Illinois Senator running for President, telling constituents it was time to kill the SUV. A reporter afterward followed the then Senator outside to his SUV. Later, Obama’s people claimed it was flex fuel, as Obama is an ethanol man. Unfortunately, at the time, in Chicago where Obama spent most of his Illinois time, there was something like 1 gas station serving up higher blends of ethanol although I’m sure he only went to that gas station, right?! Likewise, I remember a Congressional PR event at a gas station a few blocks from Congressional offices. Most whom spoke were driven, and while they talked their guzzlers, reporters noted, guzzled gas as they idled with the ACs of full.Anyway, I’m more of a fan of the plug-in Prius than the Chevy Volt, at least through this decade. According to every bit of research I’ve seen, the Prius is just a more cost-effective implementation of the battery technologies now available. Down the road, GM could be onto something, but I always hate when things are too far down the road and not more about today. I’d relaly like to see GM diversify their hybrid including plug-in portfolio better. They have another plug-in hybrid drive that has been in development longer than the Volts. Nonetheless, I’m becoming very intrigued by by the concept of range extended fuel cell hybrids. I think it’s EnerDel that developed a concept similar to the Volt that uses a small fuel cell and onboard gasoline reformer to replace a good chunk of the battery at a cost cheaper than just using batteries.Interestingly, GM’s Volt architecture was been planned to merge with their fuel cell architecture. Eventually, both will utilize the same line, at least that was the plan several years ago. Of course a Prius plug-in hybrid might be an even better platform for a small fuel cell. Along those lines, I also find it very interesting that battery developers are starting to look at fuel cell chemistry as a possible breakthrough to cheaper batteries. Crazy, but such conversions of technologies often do prove that the sum is greater than the parts.

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