In recent months, plug-ins have become one of the hottest new technologies in the auto industry, with automakers around the world racing to bring the hardware to market early in the next decade. Among the leaders in this pursuit are Toyota and General Motors, the latter showing off its Chevrolet Volt at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show.
Designed primarily for commuters, Volt would permit a motorist to go for about 40 miles purely on battery power. But it would overcome the primarily obstacle to earlier electric vehicles by also providing a small gasoline engine that automatically fires up during longer trips. That's why GM prefers to call the Volt an "extended-range electric vehicle."
Whatever they're called, the Department of Energy has set a goal of making the technology widely available by 2016 and intends the new grants to encourage development and subsequent pilot programs.
The announcement was made during a Washington seminar sponsored by Google and the Brooking Institution, which brought together an unusual mix of environmentalists, academics, politicians, and industry leaders, including Ford president Mark Fields.
The industry is hoping to receive even more government assistance. Leaders also warn that it is difficult to put a firm time frame on the rollout of new plug-ins, despite GM's goal of bringing Volt into production by 2010 and a Toyota entry soon afterward. The biggest problem is coming up with efficient, reliable, and relatively inexpensive lithium-ion batteries, speakers cautioned.