Electric car network gets £40m boost despite sales drop

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Miles Willis

The government is pumping nearly £40m into improving the infrastructure for electric vehicles despite a sharp drop in hybrid car sales after state-funded grants were axed.

The Department for Transport will invest in UK engineering to “transform” the network of electric charge points.

Sales of plug-in hybrid vehicles slumped by 50.4% in June after the government scrapped a £2,500 grant.

But the DfT said it was “focusing on the cleanest, zero emission models”.

New UK car registrations for battery electric cars rose by 61.7% to 2,461 in June compared with the same month last year, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

However, the drop in demand for plug-in hybrid cars, which fell from sales of 4,571 vehicles last June to 2,268 vehicles last month, meant that overall the alternatively fuelled vehicle sector shrank for the first time since April 2017.

A DfT spokeswoman said: “The plug-in car grant has supported the purchase of 180,000 new cars with over £700m, including 100,000 plug-in hybrids.”

As well as scrapping the grant for plug-in hybrid models last year, the government also reduced the subsidy for pure electric cars from £4,500 to £3,500.

It also announced last year that it would end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.

New projects

Nevertheless, the government is now investing £37m in a number of projects to make it easier for electric car owners to charge up their vehicles.

The government’s new investment marks the first anniversary of the launch of the government’s Road to Zero strategy, which wants “almost every car and van” in the UK to be zero emission by 2050.

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It has handed £2.3m to a company called Char.gy, which is developing ways to deploy wireless charging technology on residential streets which would remove the need for trailing cables and additional infrastructure.

Urban Foresight has been awarded £3m to roll out “pop-up” chargers which are built into the pavement, which are designed to help drivers without access to off-street parking.

A cable free future for electric cars?

By Tom Burridge, BBC transport correspondent

Wireless charging for electric vehicles – which means getting rid of cables – could be arriving on a small number of UK streets relatively soon, according to Char.gy, one of the firms that has received development funding from the government.

“We are mimicking a cable being plugged in”, says Richard Stobart, chief executive of Char.gy, the company behind the project which has been awarded £2.3m by the DfT.

It works by installing a pad on the underside of an electric car.

Once that aligns with another pad hidden underneath the road surface, electricity is passed to the car via a process known as induction.

For now, virtually any fully electric car would have to be modified and fitted with a pad, costing around £1,000.

That’s where the government cash comes in.

Under the pilot, some people will get the induction pads for free.

Other residents in parts of Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and the London borough of Redbridge, where the scheme is being trialled, will be able to share the use of several car-club cars which will be fitted-out with induction pads.

This wireless charging project should start running in 2020.

At present, the UK has a network of more than 24,000 public charging connectors in nearly 9,000 locations, according to figures from the Department for Transport.

Jaguar Land Rover recently announced that it would invest millions of pounds in the UK to build a range of electric cars at its Castle Bromwich plant in Birmingham.

However, its chief executive Professor Ralph Speth criticised the number of charging points for electric cars in the UK.

“The current charging infrastructure is not really sufficient to cover the country, nor the hotspots of the cities. The government has to govern the process,” he told the BBC.

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