Mitsubishi and BMW's Mini launched their UK electric vehicle trials at the weekend; both initiatives are part-funded by the British Government's Technology Strategy Board which will support tests involving 340 alternative fuel vehicles from several manufacturers.

BMW is providing 40 examples of the Mini E, which will be tested by members of the public for six month periods over the next year. The company is working with other organisations such as Oxford Brookes University and local councils.

Mitsubishi's trial involves 25 i-MiEVs, the electric version of its compact four-seat, four-door, rear-engined "i" city car, and is part of a wider study being carried out by a West Midlands consortium that includes local authorities and universities as well as the car-makers Jaguar/Land Rover, Mercedes/Smart, Tata Motors, LTI and Microcab Industries.

The leading car manufacturers have been showing electric concept cars at motor shows and carrying out isolated trials of battery-powered cars for years but these haven't led to wide-scale adoption so far. But now it seems that the technology really has some momentum behind it; almost all of the big car-makers have electric car programmes of some sort.

There are still formidable obstacles to the widespread use of electric cars, though; given the limited range of electric vehicles (about 100 miles in the case of the i-MiEV), the establishment of a suitable recharging infrastructure will be crucial to their success, and nobody really knows what sort of load will be placed on the electricity supply network by electric cars, which will depend on their pattern of use. The supply issues will be covered by the energy company Southern and Scottish Energy in the case of the Mini trial and the German power supplier E.ON in the West Midlands consortium of which Mitsubishi is a part.

Search for used cars