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British Government Offers Carbuyers Incentives

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The British government is trying to give electric cars a boost now. It's offering car buyers up to $7,500 if they purchase electric or hybrid cars. NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD: The announcement is part of the British government's $400 million plan to promote low carbon transport over the next five years, as well as giving a boost to the ailing auto industry. The government said there was huge potential for electric car growth, with less than one-tenth of 1 percent of Britain's 26 million cars now running on electric power. The incentives unveiled by business secretary Peter Mandelson will be offered from the year 2011, when a new generation of electric cars is expected to become available.

Mr. PETER MANDELSON (Business Secretary, Great Britain): I think when people see the electric car and feel it, its speed, the lack of noise, they are going to fall in love with it. It's a revolution.

GIFFORD: The strategy includes plans to provide $30 million for plug-in charging points and other necessary infrastructure, which are at present very limited. George Osborne of the opposition Conservative Party said this was no way near enough, and dismissed the initiative as a fantasy announcement.

Mr. GEORGE OSBORNE (Conservative Party): It's all very well giving someone a grant for an electric car. But if you've not started to build the network of plug-in points, then it's been like giving someone a grant for the internal combustion engine and not providing petrol stations.

GIFFORD: The car industry as a whole welcomed the plan, though, and analysts said the announcement was significant. The current generation of electric cars is very expensive to make, often twice the cost of regular cars that run on regular gasoline. So without the kind of subsidies announced yesterday, they're unlikely to be bought by consumers. Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth said that financial support for electric cars was a step in the right direction, but pointed out that electric cars are only as green as the electricity they run on. The group said the government must do far more to boost Britain's renewable energy industry to provide that electricity.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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