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// Bribes fail to sell electric cars
Critics of scheme claim plans are too ambitious and the public is not ready to trust the costly technology, especially when infrastructure is not fully in place.
J UST 14 electric cars a month are being sold in Ireland, despite a €60m state grants scheme which aims to have 220,000 on the road by 2020.
After two months, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has had just 35 grant applications, 28 of them from private customers.
When the initiative was launched in December, the target was for 2,000 electric vehicles to be on the road this year and 4,000 by 2012. Eamon Ryan, then the energy minister, said: "2011 will be the year electric cars become a common sight on Irish roads."
The introduction of grants, due to start in January, was delayed until April, but the number of pre-orders and sales has been low. Critics claim the state plans are too ambitious and the Irish public is not ready to trust the costly technology, especially when the number of cars available is limited and the infrastructure needed to charge them is not fully in place.
William Smith, a lecturer at UCD's school of electrical and mechanical engineering, felt many people were put off by "probably justifiable" fears about driving long distances when charging points can be hard to find. He said hybrids, which have both electric and petrol engines, are "a much easier sell" because they offer the "best of both worlds". So far no plug-in hybrids are available in Ireland as all-electric models have been prioritised and attract the highest grants.
Smith said this rationale isn't satisfactory. "It's a technology that isn't here yet. It doesn't have the range or other requirements; maybe in 10 years' time it will," he said.
"There are times where you might have to get up with a kid and zoom off to the hospital, and you don't want to worry about the battery charge."
The grant scheme offers up to €5,000 for consumers and €3,800 for commercial customers for battery/electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. There is also Vehicle Registration Tax relief of up to €5,000 for electric cars, or €2,500 for hybrids.
Two fully electric cars are available under the grant: the Nissan Leaf, which accounts for all sales to date, and the Mitsubishi i-Miev. Two plug-in hybrids, the Opel Ampera and a new Toyota Prius, are due next year, along with a range of fully electric Renault cars.
Fiona Smith, a spokeswoman for the SEAI, said: "Electric vehicles are a new technology, particularly to Ireland, and the purpose of the grant scheme is to promote uptake. We are starting from a low base and awareness level."
The Department of Energy and Natural Resources described the low demand as "not at all surprising". A spokeswoman said: "As with all new technologies, we would expect the adoption curve will start relatively flat, gradually sloping more steeply upwards."
Ciarán Ó Floinn, an IT worker from Clonee in Meath, is an early adopter, having bought a Nissan Leaf under the grant scheme. He said it was like driving an automatic without the same fuel costs.
"I've been able to do all but one of my regular trips in the car," he said, adding he expects to be able to do that trip when the fast-charge network is extended by the end of the year.
Published: 26 June 2011