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Government’s incentive to buy green motors proves to be a flop

The British government is still promoting a greener environment and zero automobile emissions, but its £5,000 subsidy/rebate for the purchase of an electric vehicle has turned out to be less effective than hoped or expected, and it’s going to be phased out and ultimately scrapped.

The decision and announcement comes after reports from various experts, but a withering report last September from the Commons Transport Select Committee indicated that most of the subsidies were going to well-off families and individuals who were just purchasing a second vehicle. Most of the people that £5,000 incentive was aimed at still couldn’t afford a new electric car, and the £11 million spent in subsidies over two years has benefited only a very few consumers.

In spite of the government’s urging, citizens in general are not flocking to buy electric vehicles, and there are several obvious reasons and some that are more indistinct but apparently powerful. The price is one drawback (even with a subsidy the average family-appropriate electric vehicle costs about twice as much as an equivalent-size petrol-powered car). Another is the uncertainty about charging stations – where they are in relation to the driver’s agenda, and how far apart.

Another point noted by Mike Rutherford in the Telegraph is that the government’s optimistic ‘blueprint’ for almost every vehicle in the UK to be no- or super-low emission by 2050 is a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’, since government officials are not driving EVs as their personal transport, presumably because it’s not feasible for them. That says something less than encouraging to the potential EV buyer.

Doing away with the subsidy is sure to have a negative impact on manufacturers of electric vehicles, according to research from the Transport Research Laboratory, but that’s not the real problem. It’s partly the UK’s infrastructure, which has nowhere near the number of charging stations that theoretically would be needed if a large percentage of the population were driving EVs.

Right now ministers are trying to figure out the best use of some £500 million that has been committed to support the EV industry between 2015 and 2050. Getting the price of purchase down to more affordable levels would definitely be a plus, but there’s a long way to go and going green isn’t all that easy.



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