North East England and low carbon vehicles have become synonymous in recent years, with more than £200 million being invested in developing the region's world-leading expertise since 2006.
And the recent announcement that Nissan, in partnership with Gateshead College, is to develop a Zero Emission Centre of Excellence only proves to reinforce the North East's burgeoning reputation in this field, not only in the UK but on an international stage.
With one in three of the UK's conventional cars currently being produced in the North East, a number of manufacturers, organisations and stakeholders have now stepped up to the mark to lead the transition to LCVs - a challenge that has already led to the region being recognised as the UK's first designated Low Carbon Economic Area (LCEA).
Dr Colin Herron, managing director of Zero Carbon Futures, the organisation set up to oversee the growth of the LCV industry in North East England, explains why it's so important for the region to be at the forefront of this pioneering sector: "There is a clear need for society to reduce carbon emissions, and the car and home are key in terms of how the public can play an active role in this. Electric vehicles are not only vital for the environment, they're cheap to run as they don't require road tax or servicing and fuel costs are 75 percent less than diesel. These factors are all contributing to predictions that tens of thousands of new low carbon vehicles will be on the roads in the next few years."
Dr Herron says that this shift towards LCVs creates a clear opportunity for the North East to maximise the many assets that it already boasts - an automotive sector and a well established supply chain worth £1 billion that is set to increase over the coming years in line with the demand for low carbon vehicles.
"As home to Nissan's Sunderland Plant, Sevcon, Smith Electric Vehicles and Avid Electric Vehicles, it is no wonder that the North East was recently named as the place in which people are most likely to consider owning an electric vehicle."
The region's firm commitment to the introduction and adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is already manifesting itself in a number of different ways. The North East now has in place a comprehensive package that comprises manufacturing and battery development, the UK's most integrated EV charging point infrastructure, R&D and training facilities, and a leading supply chain. With a history of innovation and engineering, it is these LCV assets that now underpin the North East's current position as a major force in the low carbon industrial economy.
Only last month, news that a memorandum of understanding had been signed between Nissan and Gateshead College to develop the Zero Emissions Centre of Excellence (ZECE) in the North East, helped to cement this commitment. The new centre will act as a business incubator for the electric vehicle industry, creating jobs in the region and developing knowledge, skills and technology. Research and development will initially focus on the charging infrastructure and battery second life.
The ZECE will also act as a home for the manufacturing of Nissan's cutting edge quick charger technology, which allows ChadeMo compliant electric vehicles to charge to 80 percent in just 30 minutes. This follows an agreement with charging station manufacturer DBT to set up a new production facility at the centre. The facility will produce up to 1,000 units a year in a bid to put in place a network of quick charge stations across Europe with thousands of units in place by the end of 2015.
Further to that, the EV spotlight will be well and truly focused on North East England from 2013 when the Nissan LEAF goes into production, after the Sunderland plant secured investment to become one of only three sites worldwide to manufacture this revolutionary vehicle.
In addition, the manufacturer is building an on-site battery plant to support the next generation of electric vehicles. The £200 million European electric car battery mother plant is currently being developed in Sunderland and will have a production capacity of 60,000 lithium-ion batteries a year when it is completed.
Part of the national Plugged in Places programme, which provides funding to install electric vehicles charging points throughout North East England, Charge your Car has so far been responsible for the installation of 400 electric vehicle charging points, giving North East England the most advanced EV charging network in the UK.
Dr Colin Herron adds: "All of the exciting developments that are coming to fruition now are the result of a huge amount of planning and partnership work that goes back several years. We believe that the North East has prepared and positioned itself to be a genuine international leader in the low carbon vehicle economy. We are building relevant knowledge and skills within the workforce, the charging infrastructure is maturing nicely and we will soon be manufacturing the Nissan LEAF here. These are very exciting times for the region, in a sustainable and growing industry sector."
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