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by Tim Beissmann

The first stage of a Government-supported UK-wide project to trial electric and ultra low emissions vehicles begins today.

The trial is the result of the Technology Strategy Board’s ultra-low carbon vehicle demonstrator competition, where £25 million (AUD$44.6 million) has been allocated to eight highly innovative, industry-led collaborative research projects.

The successful applicants were announced in June and will now deliver 340 new EVs throughout the UK in the next six to 18 months with the trials to be analysed by the manufacturers, local universities and other participants.

Among those is CABLED (Coventry and Birmingham Low Emission Demonstrators) who is responsible for trialling 110 EVs in the two cities over 12 months.

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Its fleet includes 40 Smart ed cars, 25 Tata Indicas, 25 Mitsubishi i-MiEVs, 10 Microcab hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, five Land Rover Range_e plug-ins and five LTI taxis.

A project leader from the CABLED consortium, Neil Butcher, said the beginning of the trial was an important first step towards a low-carbon future on the road.

“Today’s launch is a landmark occasion for the UK automotive industry, and this project will begin to examine the points where the vehicles meet the built environment – energy generation, battery charging and driver behaviour.

“Less than one percent of the vehicles registered every year in the UK are electric and most of these are currently used in London.

“We think that by 2020, low carbon cars will be commercially viable, and it’s important that we start to understand the public’s reaction and provide the necessary infrastructure to prepare for this,” he said.

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Mitsubishi Motors Europe President and CEO, Genichiro Nishina, said he was enthusiastic that the i-MiEV was among the first zero emissions electric city cars to be used in the government funded Technology Strategy Board user trials.

“Mitsubishi Motors takes an holistic approach to environmental and sustainability issues at every stage of the vehicle’s design, production and in-service lifecycle.

“The i-MiEV is the most prominent element of our basket of environmental solutions, which makes the prospect of ultra-low carbon transport a present-day reality,” he said.

The i-MiEV has a range of 160km, costs under $2 for a full recharge and can be fast-charged to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes.

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Mitsubishi made 1400 for the Japanese market in 2009 and already has orders for another 1500 for 2010, while European production beginning in October next year is also planned.

Another consortium in the trial – a collaboration between BMW Group and five other partners – is launching 40 MINI E cars in the first of two six-month stages.

Data from the trial period will be analysed to evaluate the psychological, social and technical aspects of living with an electric car.

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BMW Group UK managing director, Tim Abbott, explained that the findings will be used both to inform his engineering teams as they create zero emissions vehicles for the future and help guide power providers, policy makers and component manufacturers in their decision making.

“This is a historic day for MINI and for the BMW Group.

“It is fitting that the brand with its inspiration in the oil crisis of the 1950s is again at the forefront of energy efficiency with a car that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face,” he said.

The MINI E’s electric drive train produces peak torque of 220 Nm and power output equivalent to 152kW.

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Three battery elements containing 5088 cells grouped into 48 modules have a maximum capacity of 35 kilowatt hours (kWh) and give the MINI E a theoretical range of more than 240km, but the extra spce they take up make it a two-seater only.

The cars are being leased for around $590 a month and a full charge costs as little as $2.70.

Scottish and Southern Energy is responsible for the electrical infrastructure in the field trial area and its director of distribution, Mark Mathieson, said it is committed to supplying “green energy” from sustainable sources to all MINI E drivers.

“It is clear that electric vehicles will play an important role in a lower carbon future.

“As a company with considerable investment in renewable energy generation, this is something we are already firmly committed to.

“This pioneering trial will help us better understand the usage patterns for electric vehicles, a key issue for the energy industry over the coming years,” he said.

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The Technology Strategy Board – the government-established, business-led public body behind the trials – maintains that to meet the UK’s commitment to an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2050, the carbon output of transport (currently a quarter of all UK emissions) has to be significantly reduced.

It admits that while the journey towards low carbon transport will not be easy, the demonstrator program is a major step in the right direction.

With 340 cars being trialled in several regions across the UK, and with the involvement of large and small manufacturers, local authorities, universities and infrastructure companies, it is currently the biggest project of its kind.




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