The UK government has launched a £25 million scheme to kick-start trials of environmentally friendly vehicles in the UK.
The scheme, which the government says is the largest of its type in the world, is designed to accelerate the introduction of electric cars to the UK, and will allow members of the public to take part in long-term trials of electric cars and vans.
Around 340 electric will be made available to qualifying members of the public in eight different locations including Oxford, London, Glasgow, Birmingham and the north-east. The tests will last a minumum of 12 months and up to three years, with each area pooling feedback.
The £25 million of government money is being matched by the companies involved, taking the project's budget to £50 million.
Joe Greenwell, Ford of Britain chairman, said: "This is the first step in a very long journey, but it will accelerate our learning about real-world ownership of electric cars."
Power companies, regional development agencies and universities will also be involved in co-ordinating the experiments, building infrastructure such as charging points and analysing the way the cars are used.
"Here's an opportunity to position the UK as a world leader in the adoption of this technology by supporting the largest ever trial of such vehicles," said Paul Drayson, the science minister.
"That encourages companies working in this field to do their research and development here. That knowledge generated by the trial then gets fed back to the follow-on systems that come through."
Around 22 per cent of the UK's carbon emissions come from transport, with 13 per cent of these from private cars. According to a study for the Department for Transport (DfT), widespread adoption of electric vehicles capable of a range of 50km or more could cut road transport carbon emissions in half.
"We have about 33 million cars on the road at the moment and it's going to go up by another 4-5m in the next 10 years," said David Bott of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the government-backed agency that promotes the development of new technologies and is co-ordinating the national demonstration project. "There's a lot of people buying new cars anyway so the question is how quickly can we get credible alternatives out there?"
Moving the UK's drivers onto cleaner forms of road transport would not be addressed by a single piece of technology, said Bott, and so the demonstration project had been designed to try out different cars in different places.
One branch of the trial will involve around 40 of BMW's Mini E available to those living in Oxford and south-east England. The 12-month project will evaluate the technical and social aspects of living with an all-electric vehicle and scientists at Oxford Brookes University will keep track of the drivers.
Anyone interested in taking part will need to meet certain criteria, including having a garage and modern wiring, to fit the charging point to.
In Glasgow, 40 battery-powered cars will be made available by Peugeot, the local council and in partnership with the battery company Axeon. Scottish Power will provide 40 charging points around Glasgow and, during the year-long trial, the cars will be monitored using GPS to record the number and length of individual journeys. That data will be analysed by researchers at Strathclyde University.
Mercedes-Benz will make 100 of its latest electric Smart cars available in the west Midlands and in London."We're asking the public to come forward and apply to be one of the drivers of these vehicles," said Dermot Kelly, managing director of Mercedes-Benz cars.
"What we want is a diverse group who are commuting to work every day, who have the ability to charge their cars at home. The power supply companies will be supplying smart metering to work out when people would charge their cars up and when they would use them."
The EEMS Accelerate consortium — a group of small independent manufacturers — are making 21 electric sports cars available. These will include models from the Lightning car company, Westfield and Delta Motorsport. In addition, wind energy company Ecotricity will build and test an electric sports car that it claims will be the world's first charged only using energy from wind turbines.
The £25 million scheme is part of the government's wider £250m electric car strategy, unveiled in April, which includes potential incentives of up to £5000 for consumers to buy electric cars. London's mayor.