2012: This time it really will be the year of the electric car

It’s time to hold up our hands: electric cars just didn’t live up to the hype during 2011. The much-trumpeted Year of the Electric Car was pushed out of the picture like a Tesla Roadster in a suspect Top Gear trial.

Even government grants of £5,000 for those purchasing electric vehicles (EVs) failed to sweeten the deal. Only 1,052 claims were made during 2011, and critics will point out makes little progress towards reaching the 1.7m electric cars the Committee on Climate Change says we need to see on UK roads by 2020.

So there’s no denying that, much like my New Year’s Day, EVs got off to a shaky start. But, also like that hazy Sunday, the outlook for low carbon cars is improving by the minute.

A huge shot in the arm will come from the new models set to be released this year. Not only do they cover pretty much all car-buying demographics; crucially, they have also dispensed with the factor that surveys consistently reveal as the biggest barrier to EV take-up: range anxiety.

A new generation of plug-in hybrids will allow you to cruise around the city using all-electric mode, but then switch to a petrol engine if the need to tootle up to Scotland should arise. Suddenly, concerns about the next charge point will disappear.

Yes, the price is still high compared with most family cars: the Vauxhall Ampera, UK cousin of the Chevrolet Volt, and Toyota’s plug-in Prius are set to hit UK forecourts at about £29,000 and £26,000, respectively. And Fisker’s glamorous 2012 Karma – Top Gear magazine’s Car of the Year no less – is costing US customers $103,000 (£66,000).

But at least for the Ampera and Prius, drivers can expect significantly lower running costs than for standard vehicles, a fact that brings the tipping point for EV adoption that much closer.

And let’s not forget pure-electric cars are also getting better and better. Tesla’s ‘Signature’ Model S, slated for release in the middle of this year, looks set to travel 300 miles per charge, albeit at a pricey $92,400 (£59,000). The standard Model S will still travel an impressive 160 miles on each charge – almost double the current market leaders – for $57,400 (£37,000).