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Fleet Buyers May Take Lead In Building Battery Car Market

Fleets know what they need; buyers less sure what they want.

by on Nov.23, 2010

Fleet buyers, rather than retail customers, could provide the initial nudge needed to build demand for battery vehicles like the Ford Transit Connect EV.

When General Motors began testing the market to see who might be interested in buying a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle, several years ago, “I stood up,” recalls Kris Trexler, a film editor from Los Angeles.

Having previously leased GM’s short-lived EV1 electric vehicle, a decade earlier, Trexler liked the fact that battery power could be both environmentally friendly and fun to drive.  So he was one of the first “hand-raisers” for the Chevrolet Volt, which he recently learned will earn him the right to take delivery of the seventh car to roll off the assembly line once retail production begins.

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GM is hoping to find thousands of battery car advocates in the months ahead as it ramps up production of the 2011 Volt.  Meanwhile, Nissan says it has received so much interest in its new Leaf battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, that it had to cut preliminary orders off several months earlier than expected.

Nonetheless, many industry observers believe such early indicators could be misleading, and that once so-called “early adopters,” like Trexler, get their fill, demand for the new technology could plunge.  At least on the retail side.

“The cost is still too expensive for consumers,” contends Stefan Jacoby, CEO of Volvo Cars.  Instead, he believes, the real boom market “will be primarily among fleets for a considerable time.”

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General Electric To Buy 25,000 Electric Vehicles – Including 12,000 Chevy Volts

Industrial giant confirms plans to switch half its global fleet to battery power.

by on Nov.11, 2010

The Chevrolet Volt will make up the bulk of GE's planned battery car purchase - at least initially.

Confirming CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s promise to convert half its sales and service fleet to battery power, General Electric says it will purchase 12,000 Chevrolet Volts and will acquire a total of 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015.

While a growing number of fleet customers have begun exploring the use of battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids – like Volt – which promise to significantly reduce fuel and maintenance costs, this is by far the single-largest commitment ever made to the new technology.  In fact, GE’s plans will significantly exceed the number of Chevy Volts General Motors had planned to build all next year.

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The move underscores the possibility that it will be fleet buyers, rather than retail customers, who dominate the market for battery propulsion, at least in the near-term, suggest industry experts.

But the GE announcement isn’t intended to be altruistic.  Not only does the company say it expects to save money on energy costs but, by helping spur the development of the nascent battery car market, General Electric believes it will build a business for itself.

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GE Proposing Largest Battery-Car Purchase Ever

Leader in power generation plans to buy “tens of thousands” of EVs, says CEO.

by on Oct.29, 2010

GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt aims to kick-start the electric vehicle market with a purchase that could be measures in the "tens of thousands."

General Electric, the industrial giant that provides the equipment generating a third of the world’s electric power now wants to charge up the electric vehicle market.

GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s plan to buy “tens of thousands” of battery cars could very well kick-start the nascent market, according to industry observers, and will certainly be the largest order for battery vehicles in history.

The move isn’t entirely altruistic.  As the world’s leading provider of electric generation equipment, and as a major force in the expanding market for wind, solar and other “green” energy technologies, a GE a spokesman said the company is betting that for every dollar spent on electric vehicles it will get a dime in revenues of its own.

Speaking at a conference in London, Immelt said that half of GE’s huge sales force, a total of 45,000 men and women, will be assigned electric vehicles, though the executive declined to put a specific figure on the company’s planned battery car purchase – nor did he say whom GE would turn to for the vehicles.

The Fortune 100 company won’t be the only publicly-traded company investing in battery car technology.  A number of major utilities have plans to build electric vehicle fleets, as do firms ranging from Hollywood Studios to delivery services, many of whom drive relatively short distances in urban service and see battery cars as a way to curb rising fuel costs.  But industry watchers say they know of no company planning anywhere near the apparent size of the GE proposal.

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GE has been steadily expanding its presence, meanwhile, in green technologies, including solar and wind generators, as well as the smart-grid technology seen as critical to adequately handling the demand of a national fleet of battery cars.

GE has also formed a partnership with the battery maker A123 Systems, Inc., which is producing lithium-ion batteries for cars and trucks, as well as sodium-based batteries that can be used in locomotives.  GE is the largest shareholder in the Massachusetts-based A123.

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