A MASSIVE electric vehicle test in the region has hit the road.
Nissan has handed over Leaf electric family cars to 14 drivers who will use them in their everyday lives for the next six months, providing invaluable data that will help shape the development of low carbon motoring nationwide.
Cars were handed over to five members of the public, as well as representatives of business, Sunderland, Gateshead and Newcastle Councils and three of Nissan’s own employees.
The two-year Switch EV project involves several other North East motor manufacturers, including Washington-based Smith Electric Vehicles, and will see a wide variety of electric vehicles being used on the region’s roads.
Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk was at Nissan’s Sunderland plant for yesterday’s handover.
Regional development agency One NorthEast, which has played a key role in putting the region at the forefront of the move to a low carbon economy, has been abolished by the Coalition Government – but the minister vowed the momentum it has built up would not be lost.
The development of new enterprise zones – unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne in his Budget speech on Wednesday – would have a major role to play.
Mr Frisk said: “The development of local enterprise zones will be really advantageous for the North East.
“We want to work with the North Eastern Local Enterprise Partnership to make sure we get that location right.”
One NorthEast’s Dr Colin Herron has helped oversee the move to a low-carbon economy. He said the Switch EV project was critical in helping make green motoring a reality.
“We have got the cars, we have got the infrastructure and now we have got the public involved – that is the big difference,” he said.
“We want to know where people go, how they recharge, how long they recharge.”
Plant boss Trevor Mann said he believed the trial would go a long way to reassuring people about the practicalities of low carbon motoring.
“It looks like an ordinary car, it drives better than an ordinary car, it is quieter than an ordinary car, it carries as many people and as much luggage as an ordinary car,” he said.
“The only extraordinary thing about it is how you refuel it – and that, really, is what this trial is all about, understanding people’s behaviour.”
Martin Dixon, from Whitburn, was one of the first people to get his hands on a Leaf yesterday.
Martin, 49, is a teacher at Harton Technology School in South Shields. He said: “We are looking at how we can incorporate it into the curriculum if we can.
“I am quite into cars and if you are driving one of these, you are at the cutting edge of something brand new here, which is why I wanted to get involved with it.
“You are also doing a bit more for the environment than just doing your recycling at home.”
The Leaf will be the family’s sole transport for the next six months.
“I did have a Nissan Qashqai, but I have just traded that in today,” said Martin.
“In six months’ time I am going to have to make a decision on what I drive next.”