THE bid to make Wearside a boom town for electric vehicles took a further leap forward as ministers announced funding to boost sales of zero-emission vans.
Transport Minister Norman Baker was on Wearside to announce the Government would extend the Plug-In Car Grant to vans, offering up to 20 per cent – up to £8,000 – off the cost of vehicles.
The senior Lib Dem also officially launched the zero-carbon vehicles test track and development centre at Nissan’s Washington site, and helped mark the installation of the region’s 300th electric charging post.
Mr Baker said electric vehicles were the “arrowhead” of a low-carbon revolution and said Wearside’s efforts in the low-carbon industry would “stand it in good stead” in its bid to host the Green Investment Bank.
“Today is very important,” he said. “The Government is both trying to lower carbon emissions and create jobs, and this hits both nails on the head.”
He added: “The North East is leading the way on zero-emissions vehicles, and I think it has a very positive future.
“We need to move away from fossil fuels for reasons of security of energy supply, lowering carbon emissions, so the North East is in a good position.”
Mr Baker said the extension of the grant scheme meant business fleets would be able to benefit from a cut in up-front costs as well as the lower running costs offered by electric vans.
Wearside-based Smith Electric Vehicles is one of the firms expected to benefit from a boost in sales as a result.
Geoff Allison, managing director at Smith, said: “This will obviously accelerate the take up of electric vehicles, not only in the North East but UK-wide, and hopefully it will create more jobs.”
Mr Baker met representatives from Smith and Gateshead College as he launched the Zero Carbon Futures Performance Track and Low Emission Vehicle Development Centre yesterday.
The centre is designed to facilitate the development of “the transport of the future” providing facilities for academics, automotive manufacturers and system developers to test and trial new transport technologies.
The 92-acre test track site has been signed over to Gateshead College on a 20-year lease.
Mr Baker also got hands-on experience with the new Leaf electric car and quick-charging technologies, as well as joining in celebrations to mark the installation of the North East’s 300th standard charging post, which is due to happen later this month.
The North East Charge your Car project was launched in early 2010 after the region was named as one of the first three areas to put in place a comprehensive electric vehicle infrastructure.
It was given funding to install charging posts in car parks, on streets, at residential and commercial locations.
Earlier in the day, Mr Baker tried out one of the newly-refurbished Metro trains and saw some of the other benefits brought under £385million Metro modernisation programme.