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Page last updated at 00:45 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 01:45 UK

Electric dreams: Taking to the road in a G-Wiz

By Jane Corbin
BBC Panorama reporter

G-Wiz at Santa Pod racetrack, Northamptonshire - photo courtesy of Julian Hunt
Jane Corbin left London to see how a G-Wiz would fare elsewhere
photo courtesy of Julian Hunt

As part of Can I Afford to Fill Up? a Panorama programme looking at how high fuel prices are affecting people across the UK, reporter Jane Corbin took to the road in an electric G-Wiz car to see just how easy it is to join the green revolution.

I first met the G-Wiz electric car in front of Ray Morrison's house.

"Winnie" is bright yellow and saves Ray, a financial advisor, 9,000 a year on his daily commute from Richmond into central London.

There is no road tax or congestion charge to pay because it has no exhaust emissions - plus Ray gets tax relief because he is self employed, and cut-price parking.

Best of all, no petrol costs made the electric car a no-brainer for a man who used to drive a BMW to work.

It paid for itself in the first year.

Charging bays

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged us all to plug into the electric idea - to wean us off our addiction to expensive and increasingly scarce fossil fuels and to save the planet.

The government has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 26% over the next 12 years - but is Britain ready?

Ray Morrison with his G-Wiz car
Ray Morrison has saved 9,000 a year with his G-Wiz

Ray took me to the central London car park he uses every day where there are special electric car charging bays - vital for juicing up for the journey home.

But what about other cities? I set off in my own G-Wiz to find out.

It is legal to drive a G-Wiz up the motorway to Birmingham but these cars have not passed the stringent safety tests that ordinary cars have.

With a battery range of only 77km (48 miles) and a top speed of no more than 50mph I didn't fancy it. So I hitched a lift on a low loader to the outskirts of the city.

Into the red

Luckily the motel I was staying in gave me a ground floor room and I was able to plug my car in by feeding the charging lead through my window.

Next morning I set off for the heart of the city built around the car in the 1960s.

Westminster electric car juice point
Westminster is the only council to offer plenty of charging points

Bored estate agents staring out of the window of the roadside office fell about laughing as I tootled by, but a passing taxi driver told me he could "save a fortune" by getting one.

I was headed for the Bullring private car park and it was hot, but I was so worried about running out of power that I did not dare to turn the air conditioning on and drain the battery.

To my relief as the needle moved from green to amber and towards red I saw a plug socket in the corner of the car park. But my hopes were dashed when it turned out to be the wrong voltage and my charger would not fit.

Help needed

The Bullring car park told us they have no plans to install electric charging points. And in a Birmingham council car park down the road there were no points either - in fact the council, which prides itself on its green credentials, they said they did not have any in the entire city.

Later they told Panorama they are looking at possible locations with a view to installing them - in the future.

Chimney at Eggborough Power Station
The government wants to cut CO2 emissions by 26% over 12 years

Luckily our low loader had a generator so we charged up on the way to Manchester where people seemed amused to see my electric car - clearly a novelty in these parts.

No public charging points here either - the council say there simply is not the demand.

But help was at hand in the form of Howard Clinton, the owner of an electric scooter shop. For the price of a pint he let me plug into his socket - the only one in Manchester.

"It's madness isn't it, it's daft," said Howard, as he explained that the two nearest charging points were in Sheffield and Stoke.

Lack of facilities

Panorama asked all 471 UK local authorities if they had public electric charging points. Only a quarter replied.

Apart from the 60 in Westminster there were only seven points, and most of those were only available some of the time.

G-Wiz at Santa Pod racetrack, Northamptonshire - photo courtesy of Julian Hunt
The G-Wiz was not going to win any speed prizes at Santa Pod racetrack
photo courtesy of Julian Hunt

Westminster is the only council to offer reduced parking rates plus plenty of charging points, and a holiday from congestion charges for electric cars.

There is a long way to go before we can claim the UK is ready for this clean and cheap form of motoring.

I tackled Angela Eagle, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury on the lack of facilities.

"No, at the moment it is too early to expect an infrastructure for cars that hardly exist to somehow spring into life," she said, "but there is evidence that with effort, when you get to a certain level of activity and there are actually electric cars in the market, that you can begin to introduce that infrastructure quite quickly and there will be a tipping point".

My final day with my G-Wiz was spent at Santa Pod, the home of drag racing in Northamptonshire.

I took it down the track to show that perhaps one day an alternative fuel car would be acceptable even to the petrolheads who had gathered to watch an awesome jet car that covered a quarter of a mile in six seconds at 336mph.

I only managed half that distance and it took me 21 seconds!

But the laughter and the roars of approval from the crowd seemed to hold the promise that the electric car will eventually become a serious contender in the race for greener motoring.

Panorama: Can We Afford to Fill Up? Will be on BBC One at 8.30pm on Monday 28 July 2008.

Can We Afford to Fill Up?
25 Jul 08 |  Panorama
Tips on saving pounds at the pump
27 Jul 08 |  Panorama
Q&A: Record oil prices
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