Are electric cars about to make a surge at last?

Extra charging points and new technology make it easier for motorists to go green

Last year, riding high on a promise to be the greenest government ever, the Department for Transport hailed 2011 as the "year of the electric car". Subsidies were offered and councils were told to plan for an electric future. The long-promised revolution in the way we drive was finally here, it seemed.

Click here to see 'VOLTS WAGONS - ELECTRIC CARS IN BRITAIN' graphic

British drivers had other ideas. The notion that electric vehicles are slow, impractical and even unsafe persisted, and only 1,000 were sold.

But now there is a spark of hope. Today, more than 60 charging points will go live in Oxford, making the city the "electric vehicle capital of Europe" with one charging point for every 2,400 people – the best ratio in Europe.

The company behind the new network, Chargemaster, hopes that Oxford will set the pace for other cities preparing for a new generation of electric and hybrid cars coming on the market in the next two years. British cities dominate the top 10 list of electric-friendly locations. London has 654 charging points, the most in Europe.

"Not only do electric vehicles have obvious environmental benefits, they also make the most financial sense," said David Martell, chief executive of Chargemaster. "They have never been more convenient to charge and maintain." The new stations will be able to charge a car's battery in half the eight hours older charging points can take. A further 50 charging points planned for Oxford and the surrounding area in the coming year could cut charging times to just 20 minutes.

In the next 18 months, 29 new models of electric or hybrid car will come on the market. BMW is launching its first "all-electric" cars, the i3 and the i8. Ford will launch the Focus Electric, while Vauxhall has just released what it claims is "the first electric vehicle suitable for everyday use", the Ampera, which has a range of 360 miles thanks to a small petrol-fuelled generator that supplies electricity to the wheels after the battery has run out. Most entirely electric cars have a range of 100 miles.

Combined with the growing network of charging points, it means the Department for Transport hopes that, if not 2011 or even 2012, then maybe 2013 might be the electric car's year. "One of the biggest barriers to the take-up of electric cars has been drivers' concerns about finding somewhere to charge them," said the Transport minister, Norman Baker. "Motorists are used to having a filling station within easy reach and want reassurance that vehicles using alternative technologies will also be easy to refuel or recharge. This barrier has been well and truly smashed in Oxford."

Although electric cars don't come cheap (the Ampera costs £29,995), the Government pays £5,000 toward any purchase and, with the price of petrol ever-increasing, the running costs are much lower.

Professor Allan Hutchinson, head of the Sustainable Vehicle Engineering Centre at Oxford Brookes University, believes the new generation of vehicles will be taken more seriously by drivers.

In the future, recharging could be even easier thanks to wireless technology that is being developed. Charging "pads" could be installed in front of traffic lights or in car parks, he says, allowing cars to charge up on the move. New roads could have charging pads built in. Professor Hutchinson predicts that by 2020, 5 per cent of vehicles could be electric. "It's about energy security," he said. "There simply won't be enough liquid fuel left in the world."

Back in Oxford, there are already more charging points than petrol stations. Soon that may be true of every town in the country.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Bathroom Showroom Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £14560 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Even though their premises have...

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Manager

    £44000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Marketing company based in cent...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Installation / Commissioning Engineer - North West

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Installation / Commission...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence