They're quiet, cause no pollution and are cheap to run. Trouble is, they're reminiscent of milk floats

James Ruppert presents a guide to electric vehicles

If you were told that there are vehicles available that will save pounds 100 in road tax, can be filled up for just a couple of pence, cause practically zero pollution, are quiet and need minimal maintenance, then you would want one of these motoring miracles; surely everyone would. John Dance runs Zero Emission Vehicles, sourcing battery cars from all over the world for sale in the UK. "After three years we've sold 60 vehicles. but it has been an uphill struggle all the way," he says.

Electric vehicles (EVs) immediately conjure up images of milkfloats. And although excellent at its job, a float is hardly the most exciting of automobiles. The fundamental drawback of an EV is poor power from the battery. Maximum range is about 50 to 60 miles, which means that an EV is only really suited to operating in a city.

The plus points are that electric motors need virtually no attention; off-peak electricity for recharging the battery is inexpensive; and for constant stop-start city driving, nothing is quieter or cleaner. But just about every other vehicle on the road is cheaper.

EVs are expensive. First there is the cost of converting an existing petrol-powered car, then the battery cost which hikes the purchase price up by at least 25 per cent above that of a conventional vehicle. Richard Fletcher, who runs EV convertors London Innovation, says: "These vehicles should cost less because they do less damage to the environment, but the incentives are just not there."

Mr Fletcher is not alone in lamenting the lack of official enthusiasm for EVs in the UK. Mr Dance has offered a range of vehicles to the electricity generating boards over the years, "but they wouldn't even come and have a look".

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not helped matters by imposing a pounds 35 road tax for the first time since 1980. It is a different matter in Europe, where there are huge subsidies and initiatives to encourage the use of EVs.

Buying an EV in the UK is not easy, but if you want to set the streets humming to the sound of an electric motor and make a stand for environmentally friendly motoring, here is our good EV guide.

London Innovation is honest about the limitations of EVs. "These are not motorway cars, but they are perfect for urban deliveries, and as second cars that are used for shopping, school runs and getting to the station on time," says Mr Fletcher. The company's most popular model is a converted Ford Fiesta which has a 60-mile range and a top speed of 60mph. Van or hatchback bodies cost about pounds 8,900. An electric Mini, surely the ultimate city car, starts at pounds 6,900.

John Bradshaw Limited in Peterborough offers an ugly but functional van based on an American design. It will travel for 50 miles at 30mph and has capacity to carry an impressive 1,500lb. Prices start at pounds 11,700 and the entire van will set you back almost pounds 18,000.

In nearby King's Lynn, importer Motokov UK brings over Elmos - converted Skoda Foreman pick-ups, similar to the Favorit hatchback. These have a 50-mile radius and a 50mph top speed and will carry 350kg, all for pounds 7,995.

Mr Dance recommends the Elcat-Cityvan, a Japanese Subaru Sumo converted to right-hand drive in Finland. For a range of up to 75 miles prices start at pounds 13,000, but there is a five-month wait.

Mr Dance also supplies a curious breed of purpose-built French microcars, Ligiers, which are converted in Germany, cost about pounds 7,000 and resemble overgrown pedal cars.

If your budget is tight, join the Battery Vehicle Society for pounds 11. The classified ads in its fanzine often contain members' home-built conversions for just a few hundred pounds.

And then there is always the option of telephoning your local dairy to find out if it is retiring any milk floats.

Zero Emission Vehicles: 01303 265559. London Innovation: 0171-607 8141. John Bradshaw Limited: 01780 782621. Motokov UK : 01533 761176. Battery Vehicle Society, 21 St Andrew's Drive, Buckley, Clywd CH7 2NF

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