West Midland manufacturers stand to cash in under a scheme that will see taxpayers’ cash used to buy hundreds of electric and low-carbon vans in a project aimed at boosting the uptake of eco-friendly vehicles.
LDV, Modec and Land Rover are on a list of ten companies shortlisted to bid to supply zero or low emission commercial vehicles to councils and public sector bodies as part of a £20 million programme.
The scheme was announced by transport secretary Geoff Hoon, who said the initiative had the potential to create up to 10,000 jobs in the automotive sector.
The Government plans to spend up to £100 million to “accelerate the emergence of the greener vehicles of tomorrow”.
As well as encouraging the uptake of “green” vans, 100 electric cars will be provided to show off the technology.
Up to £20 million is being pumped into research to generate the technological developments needed to make eco vehicles more practical.
Coventry, with Liverpool, Newcastle, Gateshead, Glasgow and Leeds, will be among the first councils to test green vans.
Also taking part will be the Royal Mail, HM Revenue & Customs, the Metropolitan Police and the Environment Agency.
Among local companies invited to pitch, Coventry-based Modec is a leader in the development and production of battery-powered vans. Customers include Tesco and UPS.
LDV, the Birmingham vanmaker, has announced a prototype electric version of its successful Maxus, is being tested by customers. It said the lithium-ion-powered ECV1 chassis-cab vehicle has a range of 85 miles between recharges and top speed of 55 miles per hour. A van variant will come soon.
“We are delighted our commitment to zero-emission technology has been recognised,” a company spokesman said. “It is a very exciting time.”
Land Rover is developing a lower-emission variant of a van based on the Discovery chassis using stop-start technology. This switches off the engine when it stops in traffic and restarts when the accelerator is pressed.
The Solihull 4x4 specialist is spending up to £800 million on cutting fuel consumption and emissions.
Mr Hoon gave further details of a trial of electric cars and convenient charging points announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown this summer.
Mr Brown has championed electric cars as a means to meeting the UK’s carbon emission cutting target – hardened to 80 per cent this month – and cutting dependence on oil.
But take up has been tiny: just 0.1 per cent of vehicles are electric – and no manufacturer is making a mass-market electric van.
Official figures show emissions from vans, which have more than trebled since 1970, are rising faster than other means of transport, and are responsible for 15 per cent of the total.
The Government hopes it can speed up development, and create jobs, with backing for the wider use of vans – with another £50 million available if the project succeeds.
The ten firms bidding to supply commercial vehicles under the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform (LCVIP) project include global automotive giants Ford, Mercedes Benz, Nissan, Citroen.
Concerns over a public appetite for electric cars, which would have to be charged regularly, will be tested through trials although details have been kept under wraps.
The UK raised its CO2 reduction target from 60 per cent by 2050 to 80 per cent this month.
The announcement was welcomed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, whose chief executive, Paul Everitt, said: “The automotive industry is committed to achieving significant and sustained reductions in CO2 emissions.
“It is important that the UK continues to attract investment into lower carbon vehicle research, development and demonstrations and the announcements are very welcome.”
Not everyone was impressed, however. The taxpayer-backed project came under fire from environmentalist George Monbiot who said the motor industry had reneged on promises to produce less-polluting cars.
“It’s crazy that the government is subsidising the motor industry for what it should be doing anyway,” he said.
“Years ago, in 1998, the industry promised it would make a radical cut in the amount of carbon dioxide its cars are producing.
“It’s broken that promise, and now the government is paying it to do what it should have been forced to do through regulation”.