Motorists can apparently relax. While the previous government wanted us out of our cars and on to public transport, the Coalition's Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has made it clear that this is not a realistic option.
In September 2010 he admitted that 84% of journeys are made by car and that achieving a green future can't be done “by forcing people off the road’. He went on to say that, ‘it’s not the car that’s the problem, it's the carbon.”
But such an admission leaves a question mark over exactly how David Cameron and his Coalition partners intend to achieve a 50% reduction in carbon admissions by 2027. After all, one of the key targets will be the reduction of vehicular emissions.
The aim is to put electric vehicles or range extended electric vehicles at the heart of any future strategies. For clues into the Coalition's overall plan it's worth examining the winners of its Technology Strategy Board competition.
The scheme has awarded six projects a combined sum of £52 million with £24 million from government and the rest coming in from business. The focus is going to be on reducing carbon emissions through science and innovation, and using UK-developed technology to provide economical benefits in the future too.
The first project sees Jaguar developing lighter materials, looking to decrease the kerb weight of cars. In theory this means that lower-powered engines could be used to deliver the sort of performance consumers have come to expect from a modern vehicle. Meanwhile fuel consumption and CO2 emissions will be reduced.
This technology could also be used for EVs. Less weight means less strain on the battery thus bigger mileages between recharges.
Then there's the project that sees Jaguar, Land Rover, Lotus and Nissan working with UK suppliers to develop cutting edge EV and REEV engine technology products . The Vehicle Integrated Powertrain Energy Recovery project, for example, aims to reduce carbon emissions by 4.5% by harnessing the heat energy normally wasted by conventional cars.
Another of the Coalition's key strategies is the Plug-in Car Grant (up to £5,000 off the price of selected electric vehicles) which actively encourages consumers to buy pricy EVs through subsidies.
You might argue that any such developments are meaningless without a proper EV charging infrastructure. This is something the government has recognised, giving £20 million to the Plugged-In Places scheme. This sees EV charging points installed in London, Greater Manchester, Milton Keynes, the North East, the Midlands, east England, Northern Island and Scotland.
One issue remains however: whether the public are actually interested.
The Plug-in Car Grant has attracted less than 600 buyers since launch; press reports suggest some EV charging points attract cobwebs rather than customers. The current pricing of even the best electrical cars is a thorn in the side of the Coalition's grand plans for carbon-free motoring. Larger financial concessions may be required to really kick start the EV movement.
The charity WWF-UK has stated that for Britain to hit its ambitious carbon-cutting target some 6.4 million EVs will need to be on our roads by 2030. That means 18% of all cars in the UK will need to run on electricity, an ambitious target indeed. But motor traders talk about if rather than when EVs will take off. Progress is currently slow, but don’t bet against a paradigm shift in the next five years.