By Nina Chestney
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain needs a more ambitious programme to encourage the uptake of low-carbon vehicles, as sales of the cars have disappointed, a committee made up of UK Members of Parliament said on Thursday.
As part of its aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, the government has offered 25 percent off the price of a plug-in electric car capped at 5,000 pounds.
Plug-in cars, such as the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius and Vauxhall Ampera, typically cost in excess of 20,000 pounds ($32,500).
The government expects to see tens of thousands of plug-in vehicles, which have a longer driving range than all-electric vehicles but which still need to be charged, on the roads by 2015, but demand has been weak, said a report by the Transport Select Committee.
In 2011, 1,052 vehicles eligible for the plug-in car grant were registered. The committee said consumer demand was lagging behind and that the subsidy was ineffective because the purchase price was still too high.
"So far, Department for Transport expenditure on plug-in cars - some 11 million pounds - has benefited just a handful of motorists," said Louise Ellman, chair of the committee.
"Ministers should not sit back and hope that the government's policy on plug-in cars will reduce transport carbon emissions. Far more work is required to ensure that this programme is a good use of public funds."
Emissions from domestic transport account for around a quarter of the UK's total carbon dioxide emissions, with car emissions accounting for over half of that amount.
There is also uncertainty over the number of charging points being installed across the country.
"It is unclear whether the provision of public charging infrastructure encourages demand for plug-in cars. Indeed, the government does not even have a register of all the charge points installed at public expense," Ellman said.
The government should set milestones for the number of plug-ins it expects to see on the roads so the success of its low-carbon vehicle strategy can be assessed, the report said. ($1 = 0.6152 British pounds)
(Editing by Louise Heavens)