The programme will see inner cities become proving grounds for how drivers will use their new vehicles. Around 200 electric cars will be available in city centres across the country to try out. That’s one car for every 315,000 UK citizens, so expect a long queue!
The proposals are part of a strategy to be launched today by Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary and Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary. The scheme, where eligibility would be by a limit on carbon dioxide a car emits, will become operational in 2011.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mr Hoon said: "What we've got to get people used to is the idea that electric cars will become quite normal, quite usual. "That people will have one, that it won't be exceptional and, without being unkind to existing electric vehicles, they won't be slightly odd, they will be cars that conform to appropriate safety standards and we can use on an everyday basis."
He added: "I accept that, for most consumers, what drives their decision to buy a new car is generally the reduction in the cost of fuel rather than their concern about carbon emissions.
"But there are significant numbers of people, and those numbers are growing every day, who are concerned about the impact of carbon on the environment. It's the responsibility of the government to help those people achieve our overall targets. Electric vehicles will be part of that, provided that we also ensure that the electricity we generate is generated increasingly from renewable sources."
David Bott, director of innovation at the Technology Strategy Board, a government-sponsored research body which funds low-carbon research, said: "These are now credible cars and you're not giving up anything to use one but you get a benefit in terms of running costs – the equivalent cost per mile is an eighth or a tenth of the cost of using a petrol engine." Mr Hoon added that he was keen to work with Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, who recently announced his intent to make the city the electric car capital of Europe, by introducing 100,000 electric cars and building 25,000 charge points in the streets and car parks.
Mr Hoon said: "Clearly I want to work with him and see what's possible in London and am willing to help financially if there are sensible schemes that can be brought forward. London is a showcase for the UK and large numbers of electric vehicles around the UK would be a good thing."
Last week it was reported that Gordon Brown was planning an environmentally friendly budget, making Britain "a world leader" in producing and exporting electric cars and hybrid petrol-electric vehicles.
However with the state of the UK motor industry and the lack of investment in industrial infrastructure over the last 5 decades, it may be a hollow promise. There is no detail as yet on regional schemes. According to a Panorama programme in July 2008, there were no public charging points for electric cars in Manchester, with the nearest ones being in Sheffield or Stoke. And it has yet to be proven whether electric cars are actually more eco-friendly than their conventional petrol and diesel cousins. Perhaps when we have more nuclear power stations this may be the case, but that is decades away.
A plan was announced last week to introduce thousands of charging points across London; it was revealed today that the strategy also includes plans to provide £20m for charging points and other necessary infrastructure.
Mr Brown said that a "scrappage" scheme where motorists would get up to £2,000 for trading in an older car for a cleaner new vehicle, was possible, adding that he would consider buying electric cars for ministers as a means of setting an example.