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GE Juices the Electric Car Market

by Rick on November 12, 2010

Electric Vehicle charging stationGE is buying Volts. Chevy Volts, that is.

Yes, the energy giant is jumping into electric cars. In a move that seems fitting, if admittedly self-serving, GE – proud owner of one of the world’s largest vehicle fleets – has announced they will purchase 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015. They’ll start with an initial purchase of 12,000 Chevy Volts next year.

It’s a move that will be good for their bottom line. Is it good for the planet?

Sure, the Chevy Volt is technically a plug-in hybrid and, yes, it has a limited all-electric range. I doubt GE cares – for them, the key requirement is plug-in. Because clearly, the energy powerhouse’s move is enormously self-interested – up to $500 million in near-term business self-interested, according to their announcement.

For starters, GE makes money when they sell electricity, so it’s almost like free fuel for them. But that’s not where they’re really set to make a bundle. GE wants electric cars to take off because the company has a hand in every piece of the electric car pie, from energy sources and infrastructure to deliver the juice, to batteries and lightweight materials for the cars themselves, to the circuit protection equipment and transformers for both home and commercial charging stations.

When electric cars take off, GE makes bank. But even if the move is good for GE, it might be even better for you, me and anyone else that wants to buy an electric vehicle. Why? One word: infrastructure.

The lack of a charging infrastructure is currently one of the biggest roadblocks to electric car production and adoption in the US (along with price). How many people are going to buy an electric car if they can’t trust it to get them home from work?

Grassroots efforts have been essential to raising awareness of the value of electric cars, but a massive company like GE, with profits on the line, can push electric cars into an everyday reality. By investing up front in electric vehicles, can prime the pump (pun intended).

Then, hopefully, it will cascade: More charging stations are built, more people feel they can rely on electric car, more electric cars are made and sold, electric car prices drop, more people can afford electric cars, more charging stations are built, and so on. The cycle will go on from there.

But what’s needed is that initial boost to get things going. GE’s plan is to kick-start it. And with $500 million on the line, I’m willing to bet GE – and their big biz partners – might just have what it takes to finally resuscitate the electric car.

That’s good news for us. And the planet.

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