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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has big hopes for an electric auto industry in the United Kingdom. He told the Independent in an interview published today that 2-3 British cities will launch trials of all-electric cars within a year, with funding for the projects allotted as part of the national budget coming out next month.
Of course, small-scale pilot programs for alternative-fuel vehicles have already started to pepper the maps of the U.S. and Europe. But Brown wants to go further, eventually making the country a “world leader” in production of electric and hybrid cars. He said the government plans to open talks with power companies to build a national network of roadside charge points for the vehicles.
If this sounds familiar, it might be because Brown made a similar push for electric cars more than eight months ago. As we noted last summer, Better Place’s Shai Agassi pitched the PM with his idea for electric car infrastructure. Leading up to the British International Motor Show that week, the government was reportedly considering several models for spurring rapid turnover of the country’s fleet to all-electric, and it considered Better Place’s scheme the most developed. The basic plan, as explained by the Independent back then: sell subsidized vehicles (or give them away) in return for contracts to buy the electricity to charge them.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based Better Place, however, does not have a lock on the UK market. At least two other startups — Elektromotive and EVoasis — have kicked into high gear for building out infrastructure there in 2009. A third EV infrastructure startup, Coulomb Technologies, recently set up shop in Berlin, Germany as part of an effort to expand into the European, Middle Eastern and African (EMEA) markets.
According to Autocar, Brighton, England-based Elektromotive (whose current network is mapped below) plans to have 250 charging bays — recharging stations for on-street or multilevel parking garages — up and running by the end of the year, more than doubling its operation. The six-year-old company agreed to buy or lease EVs from the Renault-Nissan Alliance in February as part of a larger partnership for studying electric cars’ impact on the energy supply and developing incentives for EV buyers.
View Elektrobay electric vehicle charging station network in a larger map
San Diego, Calif.-based EVoasis, meanwhile, wants to convert old gas stations into recharging centers — complete with cafes upstairs and video display mounted on the high-voltage charge points (pictured above) to keep users occupied during recharging. While the company plans to open at least one and as many as six pilot stations in London this year, the less-futuristic-looking curbside charge points (“Park and Power”) planned for the U.S. and Canada seem more applicable for a network of curbside stations like the one Brown mentioned today.
Not that Brown made any mention of startups. He spoke about opening talks with electricity providers, and so Britain may follow the lead of some of the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s other partners — Ireland and San Diego, Calif. — keeping the task (and business opportunity) of infrastructure development to utilities, automakers and the government. If companies like Better Place, Elektrobay, Evoasis and Coulomb don’t snag seats at the table in those talks, their moves will be all the more interesting to watch over the next year as they respond to what could be new competition.