Fleet Car: The shocking truth about the electric revolution

Billions of dollars are being funnelled by the US, Japan and China in the quest to replace the internal combustion engine with a cleaner alternative.

The main contender is battery power, but many obstacles stand in the way of its universal acceptance: it needs an infrastructure of its own - and is it as green as it seems? Meanwhile, as continental Europe plays catch-up, the UK risks missing out on the action altogether, despite the PM's vows to put Britain in the high-voltage vanguard. John McLaren reports.

Gordon Brown is such a tease. The phrase 'an end to boom and bust' had a terrific ring to it, and we took it seriously - sort of - until it dawned on us that he was kidding. The joker in him surfaced again more recently when he declared, straight-faced, that by 2020, all cars sold in Britain would be electric or hybrid, and that the UK would be at the forefront of the development of these new technologies.

Our car people did smile, if a little wistfully, because they know that our chances of being anywhere near that forefront are ... zero. That race may not be over yet, but the leading pack developing the batteries, electric motors, grid-management systems etc are already way down the track, while we're still rattling our can to buy a pair of spikes.

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