Business Minister Mark Prisk announced £10m worth of funding into three low carbon vehicle projects this morning as he met a host manufacturers involved in the sector at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).
The latest in the Showcasing British, Engineering, Design and Manufacturing exhibitions, opened today, sees a range of low carbon vehicles displayed on the forecourt at the Business Department’s offices in Westminster.
They include the electric Rang Rover Range e, Nissan Leaf and Ford Transit Connect EV, the hybrid Toyota Auris – manufactured in Derby, the first mass production hybrid built in Europe, and a hydrogen fuel cell black cab produced by Intelligent Energy.
To coincide with the start of the exhibition, Mr Prisk announced that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is investing a total of £10m in three projects which will answer ‘fundamental research questions’ related to LCV development.
This investment “will help ensure that the UK remains a world leader”, he said.
Specifically, the projects will consider hybrid electric vehicles subsystems, enabling the design of more efficient vehicles; the use of recyclable materials for manufacturing vehicles; and optimising the performance of electric motors and power electronics.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, a keen car entusiast, stopped by for a look at the electric vehicles on show at the Business Department
Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Professor Dave Delpy, said: “As part of the Integrated Delivery Programme, EPSRC will be supporting a strategic programme of university-based research. The provision of high quality academic research ideas provides the basis for businesses to translate science into the vehicle market.”
The low carbon vehicle sector suffered a knock last week when Coventry based electric van manufacturer Modec fell into administration, apparently due to cash flow problems and a lack of orders.
Speaking at the exhibition, though, the producers of the electric Ford Transit Connect – Ford itself and Azure Dynamics, which fits the power and electrical systems – said their prospects remain strong.
“Firstly, we get absolutely no satisfaction from the Modec situation whatsoever,” said Gary Whittam, director of sales and marketing in Europe for Azure and former director of commercial vehicles in the UK for Ford. “We need as many electric vehicle manufacturers in the UK market space as possible at the moment.”
He said at around £40,000, including the outright purchase of the battery, the Ford van comes in cheaper than the Modec. It benefits, he says, because it is virtually an exact copy of the diesel version of the van, aesthetically, with the same volume capacity and only 125kg less payload. Economies of scale keep the cost down and its standardized look suits the majority of fleet operators who aren’t looking to make a statement, only to benefit from the cost and environmental running savings.
Ford builds the ‘glider’ van as normal, consisting of all of the normal features the van would contain except the battery, electronics and transmission. It then passes it onto Azure which fits the rest.
The company has filled its order book for the vehicles, with the first batch due for delivery in July. It expects to make around 500 this year.
“Most of the promotional material around electric vehicles so far has centered around passenger cars but you could argue that the technology is even more suited to commercial vehicles,” said Whittam. “Most people don’t use passenger cars for long journeys – but they almost always still want the option to should it become necessary. With commercial fleet cars, that’s not necessarily the case. Many vans will be doing standard journeys or runs around the city and a set amount of miles a day at organised times, before returning to the depot. This means they are suited perfectly to go electric.”
The zero emission dual fuel hydrogen and electric black cab on display was manned by Loughborough based Intelligent Energy who provided the fuel cells for the company. A prototype, the taxi starts up and runs on electric and then switches to hydrogen which in turn recharges the battery. With a full tank of hydrogen it can run for 250 miles – the average distance a London cab driver will cover over the course of a shift.
The company – which employs 130 people in Loughborough and a total of 190 globally – is developing the technology for OEMs and has recently announced that the technology has been fully passed off by regulators for use in a new range of Suzuki scooters. A fleet of half a dozen or so of the black cabs featuring the technology have been commissioned for use during the 2012 Olympics.
“Electric vehicles are perfect for some applications – mail services, for example – but the range means at the moment they can only be of limited use,” says Dr Jon Moore, director of communications for Intelligent energy. “This technology is still zero emission but it has a much bigger range. There are plans for around six or seven new hydrogen fuelling stations in London. When that happens, we really expect this technology to take off.”
As well as the other cars on show, the exhibition featured the Lotus Ranger Extender Engine, an Electric car battery made by Axeon, the MAHLE advanced downsizing demonstrator engine, Pod Point recharging points, and an audio visual display of Leyland Truck’s DAF LF Hybrid truck
The low carbon vehicle exhibition runs until March 25 at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ offices at 1 Victoria Street, London.