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The coalition government has made much of its commitment to environmentally friendly initiatives, but spending on infrastructure and incentives for electric, non-polluting vehicles has failed to match promises.
Just a third of the £400m promised between 2010 and 2015 to support uptake has been spent or earmarked for projects, according to government figures.
Many in the industry believe that, in the long term, electric cars will replace oil-powered vehicles, but consumer fears about charging the cars, and the distance that one charge will allow them to drive – so-called “range anxiety” – are stumbling blocks for sales.
The UK’s failure to invest in vital infrastructure such as an easily accessible, widespread network of charging points is a serious block to demand, automobile industry executives have said.
“There is a disconnect between the rhetoric, which is supportive, and the actions,” an industry official told the Financial Times.
“The key thing is infrastructure. And this is the main area of disappointment,” said the official. “You’re looking around, and saying ‘I can’t see any chargers anywhere’, and therefore you have range anxiety.”
UK drivers bought just 2,538 electric cars in the first nine months of the year. In Norway, a country with a population less than a tenth of Britain, double that number was sold. In France, the figure was 6,300.
Britain is keen to market itself as a “centre of excellence” for high-tech cars, and Nissan has made the country its European manufacturing location for its all-electric Leaf model, the world’s biggest-selling electric car.
But the UK fell below France last month to become the Leaf’s third-largest European market, meaning the majority of the British-built electric cars are shipped abroad.
Of the 87,000 Leafs sold worldwide, including 16,000 in Europe, only 3,000 have been sold in the UK. Electric cars are not offered as an option for official vehicles to UK government ministers, who have the choice of a Jaguar or a hybrid Toyota Prius.
The government pledged £400m to supporting the vehicles in the UK in the five years to March 2015. But as of 30 September 2013, only £92m had been spent, including only £16m on infrastructure such as public charging points.
A further £44m has been committed for projects up to March 2015. Of this, £12m will be on infrastructure, according to data from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, a government body.
Britain has about 5,000 public car charging points – most of which take more than four hours to charge a battery. Crucially, only 220 are rapid chargers, which can replenish most of a battery’s charge in about 20 minutes, making them far more useful for drivers.
Eight out of 10 Britons think the government should be doing more to make owning an electric vehicle affordable, according to a recent survey by Auto Trader magazine; seven out of 10 want more charging points.
The UK offers buyers a £5,000 rebate off the price of an electric car, with £25m of rebates provided so far.
“There are no government targets for electric car sales,” said a spokesman for the Department for Transport. “The number of people who are signing up for our plug-in car grant continues to rise, which is good news for the environment, the economy and consumers.”
“The coalition government’s ongoing investment in ultra-low emission vehicles is helping to transform the UK into a world leader in this industry,” the spokesman added.
Source: The Financial Times