LONDON, June 30 (UPI) -- "Sustainable mobility" is the catchphrase of the moment in Europe.
Test trials involving electric cars are mushrooming all over the continent, with the grandest plans tabled in Britain, Germany and Denmark. In times of climate change and quickly depleting fossil fuels, the electric cars are intended to reduce Europe's carbon dioxide emissions and its dependence on foreign oil.
London last week unveiled the world's largest trial of green cars, a $40 million scheme aimed at boosting sustainable mobility in Britain. Around 340 cars -- from electric Mini Cooper vehicles to sports cars and vans -- will be test-driven by a selected audience all over the country starting in October. The trial will also involve energy utilities, universities and regional authorities providing the charging infrastructure and evaluating the driving experiences. Car companies providing vehicles include BWM, Daimler and Peugeot.
"Here's an opportunity to position the U.K. as a world leader in the adoption of this technology by supporting the largest ever trial of such vehicles," The Guardian newspaper quoted British Science Minister Paul Drayson as saying. "That encourages companies working in this field to do their research and development here. That knowledge generated by the trial then gets fed back to the follow-on systems that come through."
Britain has ambitious goals when it comes to electric mobility. Earlier this year London decided to earmark around $410 million in incentives for buying green cars.
Germany, the continent's biggest car nation with an estimated 41 million units, wants to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. It has decided to fund research into boosting electric cars with nearly $1 billion.
A first test project, called e-mobility, was launched last week in Berlin. Some 20 parking garages in the capital are currently being outfitted with charging stations, where the drivers of 100 electric Smart cars can load up on electricity. Daimler, the producer of the electric Smart, is cooperating with utility Vattenfall, which supplies the charging infrastructure. Its competitor BMW is running a similar test project in Munich.
The Portuguese government on Tuesday announced a plan to build some 1,300 charging stations for electric cars over the next two years. Lisbon has long banked on renewables and is now trying to become increasingly independent from foreign fossil fuel imports. To boost the electric car industry, the government has vowed to support buyers of zero-emission vehicles.
But the limited range of many electric cars -- their batteries are not yet powerful enough -- remains a big obstacle to a bigger green car market. Better Place, a company founded by former SAP head Shai Agassi, banks on battery swap stations to extend the electric driving experience. In Denmark, Better Place has raised roughly $130 million in investment money. It has teamed up with utility Dong Energy to provide a network of charging stations that can exchange an empty battery with a charged one in less than a minute, according to Jens Moberg, the head of Better Place Denmark.
"We have an ambition that we can give people the same comfort, convenience and range that we all know from the cars that we drive today -- but without oil and CO2 emissions," Moberg said.