GM, Utilities Team Up on Plug-In Hybrids

July 22, 2008

General Motors is teaming up with a consortium of more than 30 utilities around the country in a bid to make sure key cities will be ready when it rolls out its new plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, in 2010.

Also known as an "extended-range electric vehicle," Chevy's sedan will be able to run as much as 40 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion batteries - and then drive on indefinitely using a small, internal combustion engine. The automaker expects owners will charge up their Volts at home, each night, and possibly top up during the day as well, using charging stations at work or public garages. Conceivably, say for those who use the vehicle primarily to commute, it could operate for months solely on battery power.

That is, of course, if a motorist can find a place to plug in. Unlike some of the electric vehicles of years past, Volt will be able to charge up from any 110-volt outlet, but speed is a factor, and going to 220-volt systems would make it easier to ensure a full charge fast, especially when using a public charging station.

So one reason why GM wants to work with the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute and its affiliated utilities is to work up ways to get higher-voltage systems in place across the country. That's not always as easy as it sounds. It could require, in some cases, changes to local and state regulations and codes. It might require upgrades by utilities to meet added electric demand.

The U.S. Department of Energy has already awarded a $10 million grant to EPRI and GM for a plug-in hybrid demonstration program. Meanwhile, both presidential candidates have jumped on the bandwagon, calling for tax credits and other federal support, even a contest to spur development of advanced automotive battery technology.

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