Motorists would get at least £2,000 towards the cost of buying an electric car under government moves to revolutionise driving in cities.
In an interview with The Independent yesterday, Gordon Brown said that this month's Budget would pave the way for the mass introduction of electric cars. But ministers acknowledge many drivers will need a cash incentive to be convinced to abandon petrol-run vehicles.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, also said yesterday that he planned to create 25,000 electric car charging spaces in the city over the next six years. He hopes that 100,000 electric cars and vans could be using the city's streets.
The proposed government grant of £2,000 would reduce the cost of a small electric car to about £7,000. Drivers could recoup the sale price in savings in little more than two years as an average electric vehicle saves about £3,000 a year in motoring costs. The handouts would be modelled on the solar-panel grants scheme for homeowners.
The plans, to be set out in an ultra-low carbon car strategy this month, are designed to kick-start driver demand which British manufacturers could meet. They could be in place by 2011.
Mr Johnson's proposals to revolutionise motoring in London were set out in a letter to Mr Brown yesterday. The Mayor pressed for charging points to be installed on main roads and in workplaces, retail centres, car parks and railway stations by 2015. He proposes that 20 per cent of all new parking spaces be equipped with such points.
He promised to convert at least 1,000 London Authority vehicles to electric by 2015 and repeated a guarantee that electric vehicles would be exempt from the central London congestion charge. Mr Johnson called for the £60m cost of his plans to be met jointly by the Greater London Authority, the Government and the private sector.
"This package of measures would be unprecedented in Europe and would make London the electric car capital," he said. "By taking these steps, we will not only create green-collar jobs, but also smooth the way for less polluting transport choices which will improve our air quality, reduce traffic noise and contribute significantly to my carbon emissions reduction target."
The Conservatives say creating a network of charging points is essential to encourage motorists to change their habits. They propose giving electricity companies incentives to set up such points using decarbonised electricity.
Philip Gomm, from the RAC Foundation, said: "The Prime Minister's comments must be welcomed by anyone interested in providing sustainable transport for individuals into the future.
"But while government backing for alternative technology like electric vehicles is good news, this is still a vision for tomorrow and not today. The short-term answer must include further refinement of existing technology."