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ELECTRIC VEHICLES IN THE UK - Problems and Solutions

1. Present State of the Art

Established electric drive technology with cheap lead-acid batteries is already more than adequate for urban use. Range about 50 miles. Well suited to commuting, shopping, school run, local deliveries etc. 2-, 3- and 4-wheel cars and vans up to about 1 ton and are successfully in operation - eg conversions of Ford Fiesta, Reliant Robin, Daihatsu micro-van, Bajaj autorickshaw, Honda moped. Conversion of used vehicles is more energy efficient than of new vehicles - as more energy is used in producing a car than in subsequently running it on the road. EV conversions for niche markets - city car, urban delivery etc - are likely to predominate for the next 10-15 years until the electric motorway car becomes a reality.

2. Costs

Present conversions in small quantities are about 30% more expensive initially than conventional cars, but running costs are much lower. eg. for Ford Fiesta running 10,000 miles p.a: petrol (gasoline) costs £860; electricity (day rate) £112, (night rate) £42. Battery depreciation is less than the savings on Road Tax, annual testing and servicing.

3. Public Awareness

Market for EVs will be created by public demand. Politicians are coming under increasing pressure from the media and public interest groups. The technology for non-polluting cars, vans, buses and taxis exists here and now. We need the political and commercial will to apply it.

Some suggested points to focus on; others will no doubt be added:

  • Mandatory 'Clean Air Islands'- with zero emissions - to be established in the UK before the Year 2000 - eg. Oxford Street, London, Greenwich and many other city centres - our contribution to the millennium.
  • Development of a 'clean' taxi for London (and elsewhere - eg SE Asia) - with propane-fuelled hybrid-electric drive.
  • Use of 'clean' vehicles by the Government Car Pool, Post Office etc.
  • Support for the large number of local authorities who want zero emission vehicles - eg short-term leasing for proving trials.

4. Proposed Action on Publicity

Increased involvement in events which will attract publicity eg public demonstrations, speed/endurance records, Green Roadshow, exhibitions, Millennium celebrations etc.

Extended circulation and lobbying of press, politicians and other contacts with press notices and other promotional material.

5. Proposed Action on Supply of EVs

(a) Customers to supply own vehicles for conversion - eg BT vans
(b) New cars and vans to be obtained from producers. Converters to take out engines and other components and sell them eg. to kit-car manufacturers - until such time as 'gliders' are available. (new cars without engines).

Support for present small-scale 'converters' to increase production.

As demand increases, production to be sub-contracted to Special Vehicle Organisations (SVOs) of established car manufacturers or distributors.

Specialist drivetrains to be supplied to other EV builders and converters - both commercial and private individuals - as already to Reliant Motors, Daihatsu and go-kart manufacturers.

Arrangements for short and long-term leasing to local authorities and others who want to try out EVs.

6. Obstacles to be overcome

  • Market requires new electric vehicles, though converting used vehicles is considerably more energy-efficient.
  • Leasing companies, finance houses etc will accept only new vehicles, not conversions of used vehicles.
  • We would like to convert both new and used vehicles, but manufacturers will not provide 'gliders' - new cars without engines - though both Ford and GM promised the US Congress they would do so.
  • Special Vehicle Organisations (SVOs) of big car manufacturers say they can't take back into stock engines and other costly parts taken out of new cars because they are not technically 'new' - ie. have been test driven a few miles - although these parts could be used by, eg, kit car manufacturers.
  • Vauxhall UK would like to have an electric Corsa developed but has been blocked by GME of Germany (General Motors Europe which controls Vauxhall) which wants all EV work carried out under their control. An example of the 'one best way' syndrome - thus discouraging diversity, and the spread of expertise and employment
  • British Government's Powershift Programme offers users 50% of extra cost of electric over equivalent conventional vehicles, plus other support. Those seeking support from the Programme gain the impression - hopefully mistakenly - that such support is more readily available to big companies than to SMEs. This may be justified, but the SMEs feel they should be entitled to take part in the discussion, on criteria such as value for money. It is well know that innovation is much more expensive in big companies.

7. The Way Forward.
The converters already have the technology. They would like assistance in the supply of gliders and access to markets.

Government action is needed to enforce air quality standards (a) in urban areas and (b) in leisure facilities such as indoor karting tracks.

Programmes such as Powershift should use their influence in support of the EV conversion industry, eg. by encouraging the supply of new vehicles without engines.

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