Plug it in, turn it on. Cars that lead the drive to save our cities

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The biggest ever experiment involving electric cars replacing conventional combustion engine cars is to start in Coventry next month, with 14 Peugeot 106s being operated by five different large organisations.

The experiment, part of a pounds 500,000 project, is designed to test whether electric cars and light vans could be used by a wide range of organisations to reduce local pollution in towns and cities. It follows a successful two-year experiment in La Rochelle, on the western coast of France with about 40 cars from various companies and which involved members of the public as well as companies. Myles Mackle, who is Coventry council's project officer for the scheme, said: '"La Rochelle helped Peugeot to develop the 106 and to test the car in a range of practical applications. Now we are trying the same thing in a British context."

A future version of the electric car, the Concept 2096, was unveiled at the Motor Show yesterday. Commissioned by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to celebrate 100 years of the British motor, the car runs on pre-programmed routes, with low emission rates.

The Coventry vehicles, which should all be on the road next month, are being used by Royal Mail, East Midlands Electricity, PowerGen, Coventry City Council and Peugeot itself. A set of recharging points around the city is being developed to enable vehicles to be refuelled during the day. They will be used as part of these organisations' normal fleet, for routine tasks such as delivering mail and reading meters..

The range of the vehicles is around 60 miles and they have a top speed of 60mph. When The Independent drove one, it was responsive and peppy, belying the sluggish image which has bedeviled electric cars.

The cars use a nickel-cadmium battery which take four hours to recharge, last for eight years, and cost pounds 12, 000, around double their petrol equivalent. Although in France, the 106 has become the first modern electric passenger car to go into production, sales are still very low and therefore the cost of parts very is high.

The Coventry 106s are virtually the same as the conventional car, except they have re- duced space in the boot to accommodate batteries and are four-seater. A spokesman for Peugeot said: "We believe that for electric cars to be accepted widely, they have to provide the same level of quality, comfort, driving pleasure, style and safety as conventional vehicles."