Early Stage R&D Competition

Key Features

The Niche Vehicle “EV Challenge” Early Stage R&D Competition 2021 provides a platform for collaborative research and development in the area of zero emission vehicle technologies within the UK niche vehicle sector. It is jointly funded by the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) and Innovate UK, delivered by the Niche Vehicle Network with support from Cenex.

Programme:     Niche Vehicle Network

Award:     Up to £210,000

Opens: 15th Mar 2021

Closes: 15th Apr 2021

! This scheme is now closed


The Competition is open to niche vehicle manufacturers, system suppliers and design/engineering or technology organisations active in the UK specialist and low volume manufacturing sector who wish to collaborate on innovative, industry-led projects.


Projects need to demonstrate the accelerated development of technologies based around one or more of the following areas, directly applicable to on-road, zero emission UK niche vehicles:

  • Electric machines and power electronics
  • Energy storage and energy management systems
  • Fuel cells
  • Lightweight vehicle body, chassis and powertrain structures [1]
  • Aerodynamics for improved energy efficiency [1]
  • Other disruptive low carbon vehicle technologies

[1] Must be able to demonstrate significant vehicle-level benefits to range extension, reduced energy consumption and/or negating the weight impact of adopting zero emissions propulsion systems

The following technologies are specifically out of scope and ineligible for funding in this competition stream:

  • Hybrids
  • Fuels & lubricants
  • Conversions of internal combustion engines (ICE) to run on gaseous / alternative / zero carbon / synthetic ‘e’ fuels
  • All activities related to any conventional engine R&D work – including range extenders
  • Off-board vehicle charging solutions (please see “Innovative Charging” competition)
  • Vehicle to grid

Applicants should ensure that their application into this competition is based upon an appropriate stage of development or technology readiness which has already been achieved:

  • Early Stage R&D: Where the consortium has already established the technical feasibility of their concept and now aims to develop and produce a proof of concept or first prototype which it can demonstrate on a zero emission UK niche vehicle. Early Stage projects can be up to 6 months in duration and eligible expenditure of up to £300,000

Funding is restricted to technologies applicable to powered, wheeled road-going zero emission UK niche vehicles. A niche vehicle manufacturer is defined as an independent UK based vehicle manufacturer producing less than 10,000 vehicles per year. Projects must be industry led, aiming to support the growth, productivity and competitiveness of the UK niche vehicle sector. The programme therefore focuses on technologies applicable to low-volume UK production.

Projects must be collaborative and industry-led by an SME. The consortium must include a niche vehicle manufacturer, tier 1 supplier or vehicle fleet operator. The competition is aimed primarily at SMEs but it is permissible to include one large company or other large organisation (such as a University or RTO) in each consortium. Two large companies may only participate where one is a niche vehicle manufacturer, tier 1 supplier or vehicle fleet operator, and the other is an RTO, University or University Group Company.


Funding Eligibility

The following vehicle types are in scope:

Powered, zero emission, wheeled vehicles used on-road, with niche vehicle applicability:

  • Up to 3.5T GVW = E-bikes, e-trikes, e-scooters, e-micro mobility, motorcycles, last mile delivery, taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles (LCV)
  • Over 3.5T GVW = Special purpose vehicles, mini-buses and municipal vehicles
  • Other niche vehicle types over 3.5T GVW may be considered by exception

The following vehicle types are out of scope:

  • HGVs, buses, coaches & agricultural vehicles
  • Driverless vehicles and PODs
  • Dedicated motorsport and race vehicles
  • Marine, rail, aerospace and drones
  • Any vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine (ICE), including hybrids or conversions of ICE to run on gaseous / alternative / zero carbon / synthetic ‘e’ fuels


The following costs are ineligible and should be excluded from any part of the project costs and any overhead calculations.

  • Input VAT
  • Interest charges, bad debts, profits, advertising, entertaining
  • Hire purchase interest and any associated service charges
  • Advertising and marketing costs/activities
  • Profit earned by a subsidiary of a project partner or by an affiliated company undertaking work subcontracted out under the project
  • Inflation and contingency allowances (as an overall arbitrary percentage) additional to eligible costs – however reasonable inflation rates can be included in labour and material cost estimates
  • The value of existing assets such as IPR, data, software programmes and other exploitable assets that any of the collaborators contribute towards the project
  • Project audit/legal fees – the legal costs of setting up the project or the collaboration and costs associated with conducting audits or making grant claims are ineligible
  • Royalties or payments to third parties associated with preparing project applications