THE North East has entered into a multi-million pound gamble in a bid to convince Nissan it is the ideal place to build electric cars.
Tyneside was yesterday introduced to electric cars bought from a £10m fund set up to help roll-out charging points throughout the region.
Spending bosses from regeneration agencies, Government departments and leading manufacturers have provided the cash in an attempt to turn the North East into Europe’s leading producer of electric cars.
Nissan has refused to say where they will build the next generation of eco-friendly cars despite being a part of the regional consortium.
It’s made up of One North East, Newcastle University, Washington-based Tanfield Engineering’s Smith Electric Vehicles, the taxi manufacturer LTI Vehicles, Ford, AVID Vehicles of Cramlington, Liberty Electric Cars of Oxford and Nissan.
Nissan has already been paid to supply 15 electric cars, as part of a 35-car deal involving other companies in the consortium. It will be at least 2011 before Nissan makes a manufacturing decision that could see thousands of jobs secured and more created in the supply line.
Last night Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, who sits on the House of Commons Energy Select Committee, said the region had no choice but to "look to the future", even if that meant spending money with no guarantees.
He said: "The electric vehicle industry will be huge and we cannot be left behind. I have met with people from the industry who say we are up against Spain and Portugal. And while we may not get this production in the first two years, we are strongly placed to eventually see production in Sunderland. Until then, we can concentrate on efforts to see us lead the world on introducing charging points, meaning there is nothing to stop people buying these cars."
At the launch, backers admitted they were up against factories in Europe which would also be setting up charging points in similar bids to entice Nissan’s key decision makers. Spending bosses at development agency One North East have said they may have to tweak previous strict standards which see every pound spent justified by the amount it will definitely generate in the wider economy.
Chris Pywell, head of strategic economic change, said: "We have to get the balance right, have to be working on the future of the region, where we will go, as well as the here and now. It is really difficult at these times of economic downturn and pressure on budget, but it is equally important that we are in a strong position in the future upturn."
He added: "All the world is looking at developing these vehicles, partly because of climate change reasons and partly because jobs will be created.
"The investment will generate some income, but the rest will have to come in the years ahead. Washington’s Smith Electric Vehicles are the market leader and as the market grows they expect hundreds of jobs.
"They are already developing with Ford a passenger version of the Tourneo Connect and that will be a people carrier which will clearly require charging points. As with all technologies there is a period where there is a greater risk of initial market failure, and there are ambitious targets to make the United Kingdom a world leader.
"This investment will help us get to that point and avoid that initial failure."
The Government’s plan for electric vehicles will for now focus on convincing manufacturers to locate jobs in the UK. Nissan has said already that production of the new cars will take into account where batteries for the vehicles are produced. Chief executive Carlos Ghosn is thought to be more likely to pick Sunderland if a new car battery factory is built, something the consortium is likely to consider.
Last night Trevor Mann, Nissan’s senior vice president in Europe, said: "No decision has been made yet, but clearly Nissan has a record of locating production where the mass market is. The infrastructure helps because a customer will not buy a vehicle if the back up is not there.
"No one will buy an EV because of environmental issues alone."
Teesside gears up for electric revolution
ON TEESSIDE, business leaders say the North East could become a global frontrunner in green vehicle technology, following the launch of a UK-wide pilot.
The Tees Valley will be one of the first UK areas to trial electric vehicles, after the North East was named one of just eight test bed areas in the Government’s Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Project.
A fleet of 35 electric vehicles will be tested on the Tees Valley’s roads within the year, once trials are completed in Tyneside.
A cross-section of Teessiders will test how the vehicles work in real-life situations. Plug-in charge points have been mapped out around the region.
NISSAN has announced it is to build 100,000 electric cars a year in America.
The car manufacturer is starting work on the new low-carbon cars in Tennessee, where it has its American headquarters.
Nissan has contributed cash and support to the North East’s £10m electric vehicles bid, which includes £3.9m from the national Technology Strategy Board and £1.5m from One North East.
Its Sunderland factory is up against European sites to build electric cars after 2011.
Nissan’s first round of eco-friendly cars will be built in Japan.
LABOUR ministers in London drove electric cars as they announced a nationwide plan to prepare for environmentally-friendly vehicles.
Transport Secretary Lord Adonis and Science Minister Lord Drayson announced the Government is putting £25m into the project which is being organised by the Technology Strategy Board.
The Mini E, driven by Lord Drayson, will be tested in Oxford and south east England in one of eight trials in Britain in which members of the public and businesses will be invited to take part.
Other areas where tests will take place include Glasgow, Coventry, Birmingham, Newcastle and Hillingdon, west London.
More than 340 cars will be involved in the test to measure performance over the next 12 months.
Lord Adonis said: "People have doubted that electric and ultra-low carbon vehicles would come on to the market soon but they are available and the public will be able to drive them.
"We hope it will only be a short period of time before these vehicles come on to the market."
Page 4: Great North revolution
Great North revolution
ELECTRIC cars are a key part of plans for a Great North Revolution.
If, as hoped, Nissan decides to build the cars in Sunderland it will be seen as a big step forward in plans to transform the region’s economy.
The Great North Revolution has seen business leaders come together to plot the changes needed to ensure the region once again leads an industrial revolution.
With help from the CBI they are setting out the key investment areas in which they need to invest, including low carbon transportation, digital media, healthcare, new energy and new materials and processes.
Sarah Green, regional CBI director, said: "This represents a key milestone in our bid to be central to the electric vehicle industry.
"As a pilot region for the roll out and testing of vehicles we will be at the forefront of developing this industry.
"This investment demonstrates the belief in the North East having the skills, commitment and importantly the public and private sector support to make this pilot successful."
Page 5: Council all charged up for greener city travel
Council all charged up for greener city travel
ELECTRIC taxi ranks could be set up in Newcastle as charging points are introduced across the city.
Newcastle Council has six charging points in place now, and hopes to have 40 across Tyneside by the end of the year.
Later this year, 10 Smith Electric Vehicle-built taxis will be introduced for city travel, alongside a council plan to see most of their car fleet replaced with electric models over the next few years.
The move means Newcastle will have a working electric vehicle infrastructure system in place just as Nissan finalise plans to build their new range of eco-friendly cars next year.
David Slater, executive director for environment and regeneration, said: "In a sense we are funding the cost of any vehicles that are involved with the trials and we are looking to replace our fleet with as many electric and hybrid vehicles as possible. Our key role is to put the infrastructure in place across the city.
"One part of that will be the taxis. If it takes off, they may put in charging points of their own, just as we put in charging points at the civic centre."
Asked how long it would be before the majority of the council fleet was electric, Mr Slater said: "At the moment this is just a pilot, so we will want to evaluate the trial and see if it is producing the benefits expected.
"But we replace the vehicles every three, five or seven years, depending on the vehicle, so if this works we can start to a see a significant number using this technology. At the moment, not everything is suitable. We have some vehicles that have to travel a long way and as the range on these electric vehicle is about 80 to 100 miles normally, they may not replace those. But for just running round the city there is nothing to stop us switching over."
Many of those cars are likely to come from Smith Electric Vehicles, based in Washington.
Dan Jenkins, from Smith owners the Tanfield Group, said the North East partnership wanted to see the work focus less on research and more on design and rolling out of the cars.
"I think we have a North East-wide project here, not just something for Newcastle. For us this underpins our expertise, which is world leading."
The Tanfield group is hoping to move from producing vans and trucks to making commercially available passenger vehicles.