UK MPs call for more ambitious electric car grant scheme

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This article is part of our special report Electric Vehicles.

Britain needs a more ambitious programme to encourage the uptake of low-carbon vehicles because sales of the cars have disappointed, a committee of British MPs said today (20 September).

As part of its aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 80% less than 1990 levels by 2050, the government has offered 25% off the price of a plug-in electric car capped at £5,000 (€6,220).

Plug-in cars, such as the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius and Vauxhall Ampera, typically cost above £20,000 (€24,883).

The government expects to see tens of thousands of plug-in vehicles, which have a longer driving range than all-electric vehicles but which still need to be charged, on the roads by 2015. But demand has been weak, said a report by the Transport Select Committee.

In 2011, 1,052 vehicles eligible for the plug-in car grants were registered. The committee said consumer demand was lagging behind and that the subsidy was ineffective because the purchase price was still too high.

"So far, Department for Transport expenditure on plug-in cars – some £11 million (€13.7 million)– has benefited just a handful of motorists," said Louise Ellman, chair of the committee.

"Ministers should not sit back and hope that the government's policy on plug-in cars will reduce transport carbon emissions. Far more work is required to ensure that this programme is a good use of public funds."

Emissions from domestic transport account for around a quarter of the UK's total carbon dioxide emissions, with car emissions accounting for over half of that amount.

There is also uncertainty over the number of charging points being installed across the country.

"It is unclear whether the provision of public charging infrastructure encourages demand for plug-in cars. Indeed, the government does not even have a register of all the charge points installed at public expense," Ellman said.

The government should set milestones for the number of plug-ins it expects to see on the roads so the success of its low-carbon vehicle strategy can be assessed, the report said.

Passenger cars alone are responsible for around 12% of total EU emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.

In 2007, the EU proposed legislation setting emission performance standards for new cars, which was adopted in 2009 by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers. Today's EU targets ensure that average emissions from new passenger cars do not exceed 130 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) by 2015.

A White Paper on Transport, presented by the Commission in February 2011, flagged measures to raise the €1.8 trillion which the EU says is needed for infrastructure investment in the next 20 years.

Proposals published earlier this year have set a further targets of 95 grams for new passenger cars by 2020, and 147 g/km for vans. By the end of 2014, new targets could be announced for 2025 and 2030.

  • By end of 2012: European Commission to publish clean transport communication
  • 2013: Review of 2020 target expected to wrap up
  • 31 Dec. 2014: EU expected to complete review of targets for 2020 and 2025
  • 1 Jan. 2015: 130 grams of CO2 per km target to be enforced across Europe
  • 2016: US to introduce 35 mpg standard for all new passenger cars
  • 2020: 95 grams of CO2 per km target expected to enter force across Europe
  • 2025: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 2050
  • 2025: US to introduce 54.5 mpg standard for all new passenger cars
  • 2030: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 2050

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