The initial stage of laser-induced plasma plume expansion from a solid in vacuum and the effect of the Coulomb field have been studied. We have performed a one-dimensional numerical calculation by mapping the charge on a computational grid according to the particle-in-cell (PIC) method of Birdsall et al. It is assumed that the particle ablation from a surface with a fixed temperature takes place as a pulse, i.e. within a finite period of time. A number of characteristic quantities for the plasma plume are compared with similar data for expansion of neutrals as well as fluid models: Density profiles n(x, t), velocity distributions of ions u(x, t), distribution functions for velocities F(nu(x)) of ions or electrons as well as the time dependence of kinetic energy E-kin(t) for both type of particles. We found a significant increase in the velocities of the ions at the expense of field potential energy as well as electron energy. We have estimated the time constant for energy transfer between the electrons and the ions. The scaling of these processes is given by a single parameter determined by the Debye length obtained from the electron density in the plasma outside the surface. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V All rights reserved.