The United Kingdom’s Technology Strategy Board this week said it is recharging alternative-vehicle technologies with £23 million (about $35.4 million) of government investment for 16 projects.
Including investments from the companies involved, the projects – developed under the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Programme – will be equipped with £52 million (about $80.1 million), according to the announcement.
Projects to reduce vehicles’ weight, make internal-combustion engines more efficient, improve vehicles’ aerodynamics and develop fuel cells and other energy-storage technologies were among those to receive funding, including an electric-diesel plug-in hybrid and a flywheel hybrid concept. Participants include universities, engineering companies such as Prodrive and Ricardo and major automakers such as Jaguar Cars, Ford Motor Co. and Land Rover.
The board also this week said it would invest £70 million ($107.9 million) more as part of the next Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Programme competition, which launches in the fall. The news came after the board, along with two other government agencies, announced an £8 million ($12.3 million) investment in new transportation technology in March.
“Developing cleaner and more efficient vehicles is vitally important to our efforts to combat climate change,” said U.K. Transport Minister Jim Fitzpatrick in a written statement. “I hope that this will stimulate further growth in the market and that low-carbon vehicles will soon be a common sight on our roads, so that we can continue to push forward reductions in carbon emissions.”
The news from across the pond is the latest sign that alternative vehicles are revving up.
RTEV, an electric-vehicle startup headed by former Mindspring president Mike McQuary, launched earlier this week (see posts from AutoblogGreen and Earth2Tech). The company, previously founded as Ruff & Tough Products in 2000, has developed three recreational electric vehicles that it says can be “easily and inexpensively” made street-legal for roads with speed limits of up to 35 miles per hour.
Those include the Cruiser, a vehicle with a 14-horsepower motor aimed at resorts and other “planned communities” such as campuses, manufacturing plants and real-estate development sites; the Hunter, a single-motor electric four-wheel-drive vehicle able to drive 50 miles per charge; and the Workman, a two-person vehicle with a cargo bed and optional hydraulic lift for manufacturing facilities, construction sites and landscape or property services.
Also earlier this week, battery company Electrovaya announced it had begun work on a lithium-ion-polymer battery pack for Phoenix Motorcars’ electric SUVs and trucks (see Clean Break). (Electrovaya in January also partnered with Malcolm Bricklin's Visionary Vehicles.)
The Phoenix announcement was a surprise as the company has partnered with Altair Nanotechnologies (NSDQ: ALTI) for the last two years, and last year agreed to order between $16 million and $42 million worth of batteries from Altair. But in its first-quarter earnings announcement Wednesday, Altair said it still is working with Phoenix, which plans to introduce its first vehicles “as early as” this summer.
All this news underlines the amount of activity happening in environmentally friendly vehicles, said Thilo Koslowski, lead automotive analyst with Gartner.
“It seems like the automotive industry, including traditional guys, are really working hard to make this work,” he said. “For me, the takeaway is there is a lot of experimentation going on, a lot of testing, and companies aren’t afraid of exploring older technologies [like flywheels] to find technologies that may reduce fuel usage going forward. They are taking a look at even technologies earlier deemed as failures and trying to overcome the hurdles.”
He said a combination of many technologies will likely be needed to reduce energy usage from cars.
“I hope the industry will get some results,” he said. “Because my concern is, if they realize they are spending a lot of money and are not seeing a lot of success, they might lose their enthusiasm, and that would be the worst news, I think, of what could happen.”
Koslowski said he expects some of the new vehicles, such as those from RTEV, to remain “fairly niche” for now, but added that the trend of using different vehicles for different tasks is growing.
“Why not?” he said. “The big auto manufacturers may overlook that these markets exist and they could support two or three companies. These companies and universities are trying to look at demand and address the different markets that exist. I think the industry has to accept that we may have different vehicles for different tasks and more vehicles, not fewer.”
Still, the market isn’t all that big, Koslowski said, and companies are jockeying for a leadership position so they can attract customers in the small but growing market.
He said he expects to see merger and acquisition activity in the field starting in the next three to five years.
“Not all of these companies will survive,” he said.