Transport Minister Norman Baker opens Zero Carbon Futures Test Track

The Centre is designed to facilitate the development of the transport of the future providing the ideal location for anyone - academics, automotive manufacturers and system developers - to test and trial new transport technologies.

The 92-acre Test Track site at the Nissan Sunderland plant has been signed over to Gateshead College on a 20-year lease. The site has been renovated and transformed into the nation's first performance track for low carbon vehicles, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids.

Norman Baker said: "The UK is on the brink of a critical transformation in road transport.

"We are beginning to see a real shift from high carbon to low carbon motoring and the government is doing everything it can to accelerate this process.

"The facilities I have seen today are exactly the sort of innovation that we need to ensure that the benefits of motoring can be realised for future generations without compromising our carbon reduction goals."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport took the inaugural drive around the test track, in a Smith Edison all-electric van, produced by Smith Electric Vehicles. Smith Electric, which is also based in Washington, has leased the first of the track's five workshops for its ongoing vehicle development work. 

Smith Electric Vehicles is a leading manufacturer of all-electric commercial vehicles - vans, trucks and minibuses. The company's global engineering team is based in Washington, developing and testing vehicles and systems that are ultimately destined for major fleet customers in markets including North America, the UK, Europe and South-East Asia.

Doug MacAndrew, Vice President of Engineering Design & Development at Smith Electric Vehicles, said: "The performance track will play a key role in the creation of the Smith vehicles of the future."

"Smith Electric Vehicles invests heavily in design and development. This is a young industry, so we are constantly evaluating new technologies to further improve vehicle performance.

"Having a high quality facility on our doorstep will undoubtedly help us accelerate our development programmes."

Gateshead College took over the management of the Performance Track just last year adding to its credentials as a leading business in low carbon vehicle developments.

Richard Thorold, Principal of Gateshead College, said: "This is exciting times for the development of low emission transport for the UK. The Performance Track puts us at the heart of vehicle development for the future for vehicle developers far and wide - we are delighted that this is happening here in North East England."

Designed specifically for low carbon vehicles, the performance track offers a comprehensive range of charging and refuelling systems, including hydrolisers, a photovoltaic canopy, EV charging points (both standard and fast charge) and biofuel tanks.

The 50sq m workshops include five bays available on flexible terms from day hire to a year lease. The infrastructure includes high-speed internet, a fast-charge bay for EVs, three-phase electricity supply, exhaust extraction systems and a range of vehicle lifts.

The creation of this track is the last element in the regional provision of a comprehensive offering for the low carbon vehicle sector. North East England is already home to the Nissan LEAF production facility from March 2013 and battery assembly plant, as well as leading EV producers including Smith Electric Vehicles andAVIDVehicles. Gateshead College provides training and learning in all key areas of the sector. The College administers the Government's Plugged in Places project, through its Charge Your Car project. This aims to install over 1,000 EV charging points across the region by 2013. The initiative intends to encourage adoption of EVs and capture data on how early adopters use and charge their vehicles.

Smith Electric Vehicles and Gateshead College also worked together to create the UK's first Electric Vehicle apprenticeship, which launched in 2010.

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