The new coalition government gave its first speech on the subject of green cars at the LowCVP Conference in London this week. The big question on everyone’s mind was the £5000 electric car grant – will the new government honour the promise made by the previous administration?
Norman Baker MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport, gave the speech, where his two key messages were that the government has financial challenges, no surprises there, but at the same time the government wants to move to a greener, low carbon economy. He was keen to stress that the above two issues are not opposites – they can work together.
Norman Baker’s view was that the problem was not about the car, but the carbon. However despite such encouraging headlines, the reality was that he announced that the government has still not made a decision on the £5000 electric car subsidy. Members of the audience, ie. primarily car manufacturers, stressed that Nissan has had thousands of enquiries about the forthcoming electric LEAF, but a key factor in this interest was the promise of a £5000 grant. Therefore there is an urgent need for the government to make up its mind about the grant.
Norman Baker’s response was that the Secretary of State is taking a ‘detailed personal interest in the matter’, and that a decision will be made ‘sooner rather than later’.
Although it was suggested that the decision on this particular grant will be made soon, overall, the government is appraising transport projects and answers will only be known after the October spending review.
Norman Baker stressed that moving to a low carbon economy will lead to economic growth, and that green vehicles make economic sense. He said that, as most movement is by car, we need to continue to make progress with road vehicles. This will mean more fuel efficiency from petrol and diesel engines, and a move to new technologies such as electric. He acknowledged that this will require other elements such as a recharging network, a smart grid, and smart metering.
He also recognised that because the efficiency of cars is being addressed by EU regulations, the government is currently focusing on green vans and green buses.
The thorny subject of biofuels came up – a fuel that was in fashion for a while under the last government, before falling very quickly out of fashion due to sustainability concerns.
Norman Baker said that biofuels were ‘complex and controversial’, however they do have an important part to play in the overall mix, and the new government wanted to get the policy right rather than rushing into a decision about them.
The UK energy mix that will recharge electric cars was also seen as important, and a range of renewables would play a critical role. Although he praised the previous government for its progress with renewables, he still believes an ‘energy revolution’ is required.
So in summary, the coalition government’s first speech about green cars said all the right things at an overview level, but the proof will be in the detailed action rather than in the politician’s words. And the much-anticipated announcement about the £5000 electric car grant will be one of the first actions upon which the new government will be judged by the low carbon vehicle community.