/ Motoring

Don’t write off the electric car grant just yet

Illustration of electric car with plug

The Plug-In Car Grant, a scheme offering £5k off the cost of ultra-low CO2 and electric cars, attracted just over 500 people in its first three months. So should the scheme be chucked on the scrap heap?

So, just 534 people took advantage of the £5,000 subsidy towards an electric or low-emissions car through the Plug-In Car Grant in the first quarter of 2011.

Introduced in January, there is sufficient funding in the Plug-In Car Grant pot to offer a £5,000 reward to 8,600 people who opt for a more eco-friendly electric car or ultra-low CO2 option this year alone.

With the scheme due to be reviewed at the end of the year, there are concerns that the grant could be unplugged altogether.

But don’t write off the incentive scheme just yet. Amidst all the talk, a vital factor hasn’t been emphasised enough – the availability of electric cars in the first three months of the year. Because from January just one electric car was available to buy outright – the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, costing £23,990 after the subsidy.

Nissan Leaf should boost numbers

While the Peugeot iON and the Smart ForTwo ED (Electric Drive) were both available for lease, it’s the sales of the Nissan Leaf, awarded European Car of the Year for 2011 (in rather dubious fashion), that will dictate the success of the scheme.

The Leaf has been identified as the key electric car of the year, featuring the practicality of a medium-sized car with the low running cost benefits of an EV. While it only has a claimed 100-mile range, it’s received the most press coverage, public interest and dealership orders.

And with the Leaf only becoming available in March and subject to a waiting list, the most influential electric car of the year would not have made its mark on electric car sales figures, or the uptake of the Plug-In Car Grant.

Is £5,000 subsidy enough?

While the Leaf may be the biggest lifeline the grant has, it still might not be its saviour because the general public still has serious anxieties when it comes to electric cars.

The manufacturer’s ambitious range claims are still far from impressive. And the fact that an electric car costs, on average, a third more than a similarly-sized petrol or diesel powered car is another huge detrimental element to EV ownership.

The Leaf, for example, costs a massive £30,990. A £5,000 saving still isn’t going to bring it in line with a new Ford Focus or Honda Civic, which are both capable of clearing over 400-miles on a single tank of fuel for well under £20k.

So I have to wonder whether a £5,000 subsidy is enough – why doesn’t the government increase the offering if the uptake remains low in the first half of the year? Would a bigger subsidy tempt you, or do you still have too many concerns about EV ownership?


The Nissan Leaf is a fantastic car, great to drive, and a real quality build, but £5k off nearly £31k is just not enough, yes, powered from solar panels on the roof of yor home, with FIT Tariffs, does give clean green driving, but a scheme to use the FIT’s to finance beyond the grant would make it far more affordable.

Fred says:
6 May 2011

Why are we, through our taxes, subsidising electric cars? They are not particularly green, given that electricity in the country comes largely from burning coal and they make very poor financial sense- when you consider the probable life of the batteries the depreciation would make even luxury saloons look good value. This is not a viable long term technological solution so why throw our money at it?

We should not BUCK THE MARKET. Mrs Thatcher got one thing right in during her dictatorship and that was governments shouldn’t interfere with the natural demands of the market.Stop wasting our money now as we cannot afford to subsidise flawed technology. (We should also dump Carbon Trading, but that is a different argument.)

On a cold, wet, dark night you’re going to be stranded at the side of the road. Electric only vehicles are going to be useless unless there is a big breakthrough in electricity storage technology.

Hybrids are the way forward with much potential for electric motor driven wheels and some form of power plant for keeping up the charge. Currently, most hybrids are using a conventional engine adapted to meet the hybrid needs. However, much research is moving forward to design simple fixed speed power plants for generating the electric power. These should be simpler, lighter, cleaner, more economical and cheaper than using standard engines that require to work over a broad power range and use heavy, complex gear boxes.

Derek Bernard says:
6 May 2011

The scheme should be abandoned immediately and the government should make a pledge to stop interfering in the market – and then pull out of distorting the power generation business and wasting billions of pounds every year in the process.

Graham Forecast says:
6 May 2011

pure electric cars will never be successful until both the range is significantly increased and recharging can be done quickly at a ‘filling station’. Even those people lucky enough to have a garage where they can install a power point still have to rely on a charging point at their destination. Until that happens only the rich will buy one as a plaything, and they should certainly not be given £5000 of our money.
At the moment, hybrids are the only viable technology and it would make more sense to give the grant to these.

MartinP says:
7 May 2011

£24000 for a car only capable of 50 miles a day after allowing for safety margin, hills, heating etc? Huge depreciation as the life of its batteries is approached? Use of rare materials in battery and controls construction? A better solution must be plug-in hybrid with a smaller electric range but it will still be inferior in value and practicality to a good diesel or a modern small turbo petrol car.

Javid H says:
7 May 2011

There is nothing wrong with the technology or the idea, the problem lies with the way Successive goverments handle such initiatives. The technology could get allot further and become very successfull within just a few years if the Governments and manufacturers could find their way to bringing these cars to the mass Market and offer a real choice, but that will only happen if the price is right. This isnt going to happen soon, as it would cause a serious shift and disturbance to other areas in the market, which ofcourse the petroleum companies and car manufacturers are not going to be happy about. “dont rock the boat” as the saying goes.

Therefore to keep a few noisy green people happy, you throw a few scraps to keep them quiet. At a guess cars of this class (small/medium) are the biggest sellers, at a cost of 13k for an average petrol car. The average buyer earning around 15k to 20k a year. how likely is it that they are going to be able to afford a 25k to 30k car. Highly unlikely!

J. Meatcher says:
7 May 2011

EVs are still too expensive for such small vehicles with very limited ranges. They are still not good value for money. Also, why are the public expected to pay for the manufacturer’s research costs. Surely, for them it has to be a long term investment with little short term return.

Stevie says:
8 May 2011

Hi , *****, I have just come across this, £5000, to swap to an electric car, & don’t 4get, that there is know Road Tax to pay, of which is a bonus, The way I see it, if they can sale to the british, then they can sale it anywhere, The reason only 500+ people have taken this offer up, it has not been advertised anough, or the people are seeing what will happen,( there is a saying only fulls rush In)!, Me I think it’s a good thing, to help save the planit Earth!

Stevie says:
8 May 2011

Hi, again I’ve just been reading from above, of what people are saying, Like one person said, Tax payers money, The way I see it it car’t be that bad to move forward, something has to give, the petrol can only go so high, Then the drivers will STOP buying it! The best way is to use a giant Spring, of which one can wind up with an electric scraw driver, Then all one has 2 do, is take your foot off the pedal to go forward, then to go back, shift the gear stick, to the back position, that your foot off of the pedal, the car gose back, 4 get the Batery!

Jim says:
9 May 2011

Markets are imperfect at best since they fail to register the broader economic and social consequences of the way we live our lives. Governments therefore have a duty to regulate and moderate the operation of market forces wherever their impact is detrimental to either people or the environment, which is clearly the case with petrol and diesel fuel vehicles.

Ideally our tax system should be altered so that it accurately reflects the broader environmental consequences of all our economic activities instead of simply focusing on income or sales (for example by taxing carbon emissions). This would make fuels that harm the environment much more expensive while boosting demand for and production of renewable fuel technologies.

The prospects for the Treasury adopting this proposal are, sadly, remote to the say the least, so the least that the government can and should do in the meantime is to encourage the development of alternative fuel vehicles by offering much larger grants than are currently available. I see nothing wrong in using some of the levy charged on petrol in order to fund such a scheme.

Gordon Quinton says:
9 May 2011

The scheme appears to offer the discount off ultra-low CO2 eco cars as well as EV cars. What are the ctriteria for these eco cars to be eligible for this subsidy? There are Fiat and VW models that achieve CO2 emissions of less than 100gms per km which is comparable with EV cars when taking into account power station efficiencies and power transmission losses. These cars have none of the disadvantages of EV cars, are available now at much less cost and do not need subsidies from the tax payer to persuade the cusomer to buy them.
There are 30 million cars on Britain’s roads, most of them unecessarily large, heavy and overpowered. They have engines mostly delivering 100HP upward which spend most of their running time delivering 20HP or so at a very low efficiency, especially in urban driving. All that available HP is provided to give illegal top speeds and lots of torque for rapid acceleration. Presumably there is a level of fuel price which might drive these cars of the roads for all but the filthy rich but this is the only way to make personal transport less polluting.

Leander says:
10 May 2011

Electric cars are only pollution free for the user; the pollution is dumped in someone else’s back yard at the point of power generation. I imagine electric cars are much adored by the Liberals, which is why they got a drubbing at the polls last week. Governments should not interfere wantonly in markets by offering other peoples’ (taxpayers) money as a subsidy. The paltry five hundred or so takers for this quack scheme is probably statistically in line with takers for paper pogo sticks sold to cross the channel. You have to wonder.In any event, this flawed technology is all sourced from abroad. Get real!

bazza says:
1 June 2011

Modern Lithium batteries are not the answer
Their life span is too short for the costs of the manufacturing proccess and use of the valuable and short supply of the ingedients required.

small engines with generating facilities combine the present lowest overall long term costings & co2 emissions

Stevie says:
1 June 2011

I saw on the News the other day, that the America’s have Built a Truck, of which, make’s more cense, Ok, as they said the battaries, would last for 5 years, then need replacing, But thats 5 years, The like’s of people, who would be buying these, would only have for 3 years, then buy a new One, Personly I think it’s a good Thing, I would think in a few more years, the Sola pannals, will have advarnced more, this product, is still in it’s invance, there is a lot more to come, Watch this space!