Battery 'Bluebird' - clean car of the future

Cutting road pollution » Speed-king Campbell's grandson pioneers revolutionary vehicle as US-style school buses catch on here
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As the grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell, once the world's fastest man on land and water, Don Wales has a lot to live up to. But when in August 2000 he broke a new British record for electrically powered vehicles, reaching 137mph in a car called Bluebird, he did it for a different reason.

Mr Wales has been committed to pollution-free electric transport ever since his two-year-old son Joseph collapsed with an asthma attack.

Now he is championing a slower but more important form of electric transport through his association with Bluebird Technologies in South Wales, which built the record-breaking car.

This week, Bluebird will start building the first of its battery-driven delivery vans. Capable of 60 miles an hour, the firm says they will grow to rival petrol-driven vehicles and eventually overtake them. In the process electric vehicles will help to cut the sort of toxic pollution that many blame for a rise in asthma attacks.

Express Dairies has already ordered 12 for its milk deliveries. But a revolutionary system of quick-change batteries devised by Bluebird means that the new vans are capable of going faster and further than conventional milk floats, which spend hours recharging.

"When it was diagnosed that my son Joseph had asthma, and that traffic fumes may well have contributed to that, my plans to do something with electric transport became less of a whim and more of a solid ambition," he said. "There are thousands of children very close to us going to school and everybody seems to have an inhaler."

The family was further alarmed to hear that the heart defect that caused the death of their baby girl, Amy, after just three days, may also have been due to traffic fumes.

The Independent on Sunday's Asthma Campaign has already prompted ministers to review pollution controls both here and in Europe. Yesterday the Government's Strategic Rail Authority warned that the restrictions on rail freight through the Channel Tunnel will inevitably lead to an increase in lorry fumes.

"Electric transport is going to become our main means of transport in the future," said Mr Wales. "I think the public can already see that we have to do something about pollution. The electric car is probably ready now for urban settings. But at the moment people can't go out and buy them. The technology is there, but the interest from manufacturers and government isn't because they have too much invested in conventional petrol engines."