Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 12:00 UK

Jump start for electric car trial


How good are the latest eco-cars?

A UK-wide trial of low carbon and electric cars has been launched.

Ministers were at London's Guildhall to unveil a range of vehicles that will be tested in eight cities.

More than 340 cars will be involved in the test, including Mitsubishi's electric MiEV and the Mini E.

The government is putting £25m into the project, organised by the Technology Strategy Board, to showcase the technology which will be available in the next six to 18 months.

David Bott, the board's director of innovation programmes, told the BBC that electric cars were now coming of age.

"Electric cars are now credible. We're looking at cars with a range of 150 miles and decent speed.

"We're putting a variety of cars and systems on the road to see how they work for real. Not only will this enable us to see what works, and what doesn't, but also how people interact with them," he said.

Green transport

Although the majority of vehicles on trial are electric, a small number are so called plug-in petrol/electric hybrids. The overriding requirement was that the car would emit less than 50g CO2 per km.

Matthew Lumsden, from independent energy consultants TNEI, is managing the project in the north-east of England and outlined how the trials would be carried out.

"The first cars will be on the road at the end of the year and then run for about two years.

"Individuals will get a car loaned to them for between six and 12 months so we can get a good collection of data.

Lord Drayson and Lord Adonis
Lord Drayson and Lord Adonis at the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle test launch

"We're going to find users who are suited to the vehicles and we plan to get a good cross-section of society - from families doing the school run to people who regularly commute into work.

"We also want them to park the cars in visible places; half the process is about raising the profile of the vehicles," he added.

While some companies - such as Nissan - are developing custom-built electric vehicles, other companies - such as Smith Electric Vehicles - are putting electric engines into existing vehicle chassis, such as Fords and London-style cabs.

The government say the trial is an "important step" in helping it reach its target of an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050.

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