Error parsing XSLT file: \xslt\FacebookOpenGraph.xslt Roddy Graham's Blog: 17 November 2011 - Not exactly electric take-up
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Roddy Graham's Blog: 17 November 2011 - Not exactly electric take-up

Date: 17 November 2011

Roddy Graham is commercial director of Leasedrive Group and Chairman of the ICFM.

You would expect electric car grant applications to rise as the year progresses. After all, there are nine electric and hybrid vehicles eligible for the government's £43m plug-in car grant, which came into effect at the start of the year, entitling owners up to £5,000 when buying any qualifying low carbon car with CO2 exhaust emissions below 75g/km. These same owners can also travel through the capital's congestion zone for free. But a five grand incentive has not jump started a rush for electric/hybrid vehicles. Quite the reverse!

Only 106 vehicles eligible for the plug-in grant were bought in the third quarter of this year, continuing a distinct slide into obscurity. At the beginning, 465 cars had been bought by the end of March but there were clear signs that all was not well when only 215 were registered in the second quarter.

The total number of new electric cars whizzing around or quietly dying an early death as they run out of juice in 2011 in the UK is 940 according to the SMMT, up from 167, but well short of expectations.

Blame centres on the lack of a proper re-charging point infrastructure. A quick search of Google revealed just over 200 EV charging point locations, which I simply could not believe to be true. A more detailed investigation revealed that according to Zap.Map, by July, there were 1,034 EV charging points in the UK of various types at 451 locations.

We all know that widespread adoption of electric cars and vans will depend on a viable public re-charging infrastructure. Clearly, that is far from the case at the moment. And I'm sure part of the blame lies with not having a central government co-ordinated strategy for rolling out charging points across the country. As ever, we lack a proper integrated transport plan. How many times have I said that?

For example, the Energy Technologies Institute announced that a number of major UK cities were to gain charging points for electric and hybrid fuelled vehicles under an £11m Joined-Cities development plan. In the capital, the declared aim was to have 25,000 charging points by the end of 2015. Currently, there are upwards of 150 locations!

Two years ago, the government announced the Plugged-In Places initiative funding charging points in streets, car parks, commercial, and retail and leisure facilities to the tune of £30m in three to six UK regions before a nationwide roll-out.

As part of this initiative, earlier this year, the first domestic electric vehicle charging points had been installed in homes in the North East. The first 55 of 1,300 points were fitted with regional development agency One North East aiming to complete by 2013.

It's all very disjointed, as my research revealed when researching the current status of EV charging points in the UK. The Department for Transport should have the latest definitive numbers, types, locations and maps for EV charging points but it doesn't, which is just what you expect of government. The DfT position is that a national network would be under-utilised and uneconomic and recommended that drivers charge instead at home. So it clearly is unaware of mileage range limitations for electric cars then!

The success of electric cars and vans will depend largely on the establishment of a proper re-charging network infrastructure, more acceptable ranges between battery recharges and lower lithium-ion battery costs.

In the event of a failure by government to establish a proper nationwide re-charging infrastructure and sub-300-mile ranges, electric vehicle popularity will be restricted to large towns and cities. For those living in rural areas or frequently travelling long distances, electric vehicles are a definite a non-starter.

Our friends at KeeResources have just taken delivery of a Nissan Leaf and installed an EV charging point at their new HQ. I'll be interested to hear from MD Denis Keenan and his colleagues how they get on with what is undoubtedly an outstanding electric car, the current European Car of the Year. Hats off to them for flying the green flag.

However, the plug-in grants have definitely proven to be an expensive PR disaster. Isn't it about time that there was some ROI Tsar within central government who could have the power to challenge some of their hair-brained schemes. As a country teetering on the brink of a potential second recession and trying to service a massive debt, we can ill afford to be flushing money down the toilet - probably the only prevalent talent within the corridors of Whitehall.