Thousands of British motorists will be able to claim a government subsidy to convert their cars to cheap gas power or to buy new electric ones under a scheme announced on Monday (20/11/00) by deputy prime minister John Prescott, the Guardian reports.

The Guardian says that grants will be provided to adapt such popular cars as the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Astra to run on liquid petroleum gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) in addition to petrol. Both Ford and Vauxhall already sell dual petrol/gas cars costing between £1,500 ($US 2,100) and £2,000 ($US2,800) more than standard models in the UK.

Electric cars and dual electric/petrol cars will get a subsidy of up to £4,500 ($US6,400).

According to the Guardian it costs £0.40 ($US0.57) per litre cheaper in the UK to run a car on gas rather than petrol, so the conversion makes greatest sense for high-mileage motorists, but the government hopes that a subsidy will make the switch popular with a wider market. There are already 500 gas outlets in Britain, making the fuel reasonably widely available.

The announcement is part of a £39 million ($US 55 million) programme to make vehicles cleaner in order to help local government meet air quality objectives.One of the ideas being put forward is to close city and town centres to polluting vehicles. This would mean owners of gas or electric powered vehicles would be the only ones permitted to drive into towns where air quality limits were exceeded.