The electric vehicle and energy efficiency industries in the North East were offered a positive sign this week as the European Commission hinted at future investment for the sectors.
President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, revealed a €315bn investment package to kick-start Europe’s economy - and name-checked the electric vehicle and energy efficiency industry as proposed beneficiaries.
As part of the programme Mr Juncker outlined a new €21m European Fund for Strategic Investments which is comprised of EU budget and European Investment Bank monies.
In illustrating the types of projects he anticipated the investment would benefit, Mr Juncker said: “I have a vision of a French commuter being able to charge his electric car along the motorway in the same way we fill up on petrol today,” and added: “Households and companies want to benefit from technological progress and are crying out for action to become more energy-efficient.”
Matt Boyle, the chief executive of North East-based electric vehicle component manufacturers Sevcon, said the EU needed to “get its skates on” in relation to electric vehicles investment.
He told The Journal: “The EU needs to act quickly because the Chinese, with their heavily polluted urban areas, are investing an awful lot more in infrastructure and technology than anyone else at the moment.
“The challenge is to get this investment focussed in the right places before the EU’s opportunity to capitalise on the electric vehicles market passes us by.
“Mr Juncker’s vision of the electric vehicle travelling between Paris and Rome is quite possible, but we need an awful lot of infrastructure before it can happen.”
Prof John MacIntyre, dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences at Sunderland University has previously spoken about how the UK has slipped behind its European competitors in support for electric vehicles.
He said: “Funds available for investment in infrastructure are always welcome and at University of Sunderland we’re keen to see growth in support for development of electric vehicles and charging points to encourage their wider use, across Europe.
“We look forward to further details of how these funds will be allocated and what it means for our research at the University of Sunderland into electric vehicle technology at our AMAP facility (Institute for Automotive and Manufacturing Advanced Practice) as well as for the automotive manufacturing and supply chain here in the North East.”
The funding comes in addition to existing EU programmes such as the Connecting Europe Facility, Horizon 2020 and ‘COSME’.
In outlining the plan Mr Juncker referred to the “challenge of a generation” in announcing the plan which is intended to build trust among private sector investors.
He said: “Today Europe is turning a page. After years of fighting to restore our fiscal credibility and to promote reform, today we are adding the third point of a virtuous triangle: An ambitious, yet realistic ‘Investment Plan for Europe’. Europe needs a kick-start and today the Commission is supplying the jump cables.
“Investing in Europe: It means much more than figures and projects, money and rules. We need to send a message to the people of Europe and to the rest of the world: Europe is back in business. This is not the moment to look back. Investment is about the future.”
Sales of electric vehicles in the EU doubled in 2013 from a low base, but zero-emissions vehicles still only account for one in every 250 cars sold.
The EU accounts for about quarter of electric vehicle sales globally, but uptake in the UK has failed to take-off, despite incentives such as £5,000 government-backed subsidy on the full purchase price of an electric car.
The Coalition Government cut back on a planned network of charging points in 2011.