Government boosts electric cars

The UK government is offering motorists subsidies of £2,000-£5,000 to buy electric cars when they become widely available - expected to be from 2011.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson and Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon made the announcement while launching the government's strategy to promote ultra-low carbon transport over the next five years.

Funding for the scheme comes from a £250m green motoring package that will promote development of infrastructure and support technology and encourage manufacture in the UK, as well as incentivising consumers.

The strategy includes plans to provide £20m for charging points and related infrastructure to help develop a network of 'electric car cities' throughout the UK and an expansion of an electric and ultra-low carbon car demonstration project to include over 200 participants.

Consumer incentives will be introduced in 2011 to coincide with the expected mass introduction of electric and plug-in hybrid cars to the market. The government is beginning discussions with the automotive industry and financiers to determine how best to deliver the support. To be eligible cars would need to meet modern safety standards and have a range and top speed sufficient to give mass market appeal.

Hoon said: "Cutting road transport CO2 emissions is a key element to tackling climate change. Less than 0.1 per cent of the UK's 26 million cars are electric, so there is a huge untapped potential to reduce emissions."

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders welcomed the initiative, saying that it highlighted the importance of an integrated approach between government and industry, but added a note of caution. SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt said: "Government has shown its commitment to developing a market for ultra-low carbon vehicles in the UK but we must now ensure that UK design, R&D and manufacturing are at the heart of this growing industry. The motor industry is in the middle of its greatest economic challenge and immediate action to preserve the sector in the short-term is essential if we are to stake our claim in the global development of low carbon technology for the future."

Tony Bosworth, transport campaigner for environment group Friends of the Earth, said that financial support for electric cars was a welcome step towards cutting transport emissions. "However, electric cars are only as green as the electricity they run on - Ministers must take action to boost the UK's flagging renewable energy industry.

"Far more must be done to get people out of their cars by making public transport, cycling and walking more attractive options," Bosworth added.

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