The £43m initiative gets the green light on 1 January, when buyers will get a 25% discount - up to a maximum £5,000. But only three models of pure electric cars will be immediately ready for delivery. For the rest there may well be a wait of 18 months. We suggest the Government employs a new slogan: available in any colour, as long as it’s 2012.
The Coalition has also dished out £20m to build plug-in charging points in the Midlands, Greater Manchester, the East of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That follows similar schemes in London, Milton Keynes and the North East. So the delay will perhaps prove useful – it may allow time for other areas to get charge-points of their own, preventing the embarrassment of loads of early adopters spending nights in juiceless cars on the outskirts of Exeter.
The good news is that the first three subsidised models are available from January: the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Smart fortwo electric drive and the Peugeot iOn. It’s also good to see the manufacturers continuing the industry’s propensity for weird names. But while Peugeot’s iOn may sound like an appliance that handles badly and has a tendency to overheat, at least its name is a little more ‘electric’ than its latest wagon, the Bipper Tepee, which suggests all the dynamism of Enid Blyton writing about a tent.
Following that first batch, the Nissan Leaf is out in March, with the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt and the Vauxhall Ampera all finally chugging along in early 2012.
The initiative was unveiled by Labour before they were booted out, with the coalition Government announcing in July that its funding would be protected from any spending cuts. So perhaps we'll see the odd Nissan Leaf getting assaulted by mobs of angry students as it tries to drive down Regent Street in March.
It’s a significant step: to have nine electric models racing round the place (bolstered by the publicity around the Government’s drive) is a step in the right direction. But it may be wise to keep our wheels on the ground: while there’s enough investment for around 8,000 people to benefit from the grants, there are 28 million cars in the UK. And while these electric cars are cheaper, they’re still not cheap. The Vauxhall Ampera will cost £28,995 even with the £5,000 grant (that could get you a comfortably appointed 5 Series BMW if you prefer).
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has billed it as the realisation of a pipe-dream: ‘All the convenience of the car without the carbon that normally goes with it.’ Indeed, we can’t wait to plug in, pull out and get stuck in a static traffic jam soon.