Car-maker Nissan is today launching free, fast charge points for electric vehicles at strategic locations on Ecotricity’s ‘Electric Highway’ motorway charging network.

But in an indication of the stop-start nature of the electric car market, Toyota, maker of the world's most successful hybrid electric car, the Prius, has also announced that it is only to make about 100 of its eQ all-electric cars.

The Ecotricity-Nissan charge points will give an 80% boost to an electric car’s battery in about half an hour. They are situated in designated parking bays at Welcome Break motorway services between London and Birmingham in South Mimms (M25/A1), Oxford (M40) and Hopwood Park (M42).

The vehicles can be left unattended while charging on the 50KW DC hook-up, so that drivers can take a quick break. The free electricity is provided from wind power by Ecotricity.

Jim Wright, Managing Director of Nissan Motor (GB) said: “Many drivers would love to experience the convenience and cost saving benefits of a 100% electric vehicle such as the Nissan LEAF.

"But some still worry about the occasional journey which may be beyond the 109 mile range. By introducing rapid charging infrastructure at strategic motorway service stations, Nissan and Ecotricity are removing that worry and making EVs practical to a whole new selection of buyers.”

Dale Vince, founder of renewable energy company Ecotricity said: “We believe this will prove to be a game-changing moment in making electric cars a practical choice for motorists – helping to reduce carbon emissions at a time when petrol prices are spiralling upwards."

A year ago, Ecotricity teamed up with Welcome Break and installed a series of standard (13 amp) and fast (32 amp) charge points at 14 of their services. These are similar to what drivers may use at home, and take between 6 and 10 hours to fill up.

The standard ones are being replaced over the next two months by the fast chargers.

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “I welcome this ground-breaking project, which will be a huge boon to drivers of electric cars.

“Electric vehicles are spearheading a low carbon revolution in motoring and sales are gathering pace – the number of drivers benefiting from our Plug-In Car Grant this year is already well up on last year.

“With more electric vehicles on the road, it is clearly important that there are facilities to recharge them – this plan could deliver a sea change in the sector.

"A national network of rapid chargers powered by the sun and wind where drivers know they can top up their car in the time it takes to drink a coffee will make them confident that they can get from A to B – no matter what the distance between the two.”

To use the charge points, drivers need first to register for a free swipe card by visiting Ecotricity’s website.

The Nissan LEAF is the world's first, mass produced 100% electric family car, and will be manufactured in Sunderland from 2013.

Toyota's scale-back

It has been the most popular of the electric cars on the market, but the real game changer has been the success of hybrid cars, and of these, Toyota's Prius has had the most sales.

For some time Toyota has been talking about launching an all-electric car, the eQ, a variant of its iQ minicar unveiled in 2010. However it announced last week that it is scaling back production to around one hundred cars.

The main reason given is that, unlike Nissan and General Motors, it does not consider that the market is ready for such an expensive vehicle.

It said it had “it had misread the market and the ability of still-emerging battery technology to meet consumer demands".

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s vice chairman and the engineer who oversees vehicle development, “whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge.”

Yet it is hard to see how it could have misread the market. Sales of electric vehicles currently form no more than 3% of new cars purchased in America. That is exactly where they were predicted to be now by the Electric Power Research Institute, in February 2010, around the time of the vehicle's conception.

Some observers are of the opinion that auto manufacturers calculate the number of low emission cars that they need to put on the market in a given year in order to meet legislation on the total average of tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions from the total number of vehicles they produce in that year.

Such figures are mandated in European Union and Californian legislation.

• It was also announced this morning that London’s fleet of five hydrogen fuel cell powered taxis have now driven a total of 2,500 miles.

Launched in May, and provided by the HyTEC (Hydrogen Transport for European Cities) they are fuelled by the capital’s second hydrogen fuelling station at Heathrow airport.

Their refuelling time is the same as conventional internal combustion engine vehicles with the added benefit of zero emissions at the point of use.

Taxi driver Phil Davis, with over 30 years experience of driving conventional London Taxis commented: “It has been a terrific experience to drive these hydrogen powered taxis. We have had nothing but compliments from our passengers and many people have expressed surprise at how smooth, quick and quiet the cabs are.”

Story: David Thorpe, News Editor