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USA: Dude! Where Are All of GE’s Electric Cars?

On Nov. 11, 2010, General Electric (NYS: GE) made an announcement that shocked the automotive world: Over the next five years, the industrial powerhouse would convert half of its global corporate car fleet to electric power. At $1 billion in estimated value, GE noted that its commitment to purchase 25,000 electric cars — that’s what it worked out to — was “the largest single EV commitment ever.”

It was not, however, an entirely altruistic decision. As GE explained, the whole idea behind making this commitment was to help jump-start the electric vehicle industry. Corporate partner FedEx (NYS: FDX) quickly endorsed the idea, pointing out that corporate fleets in America comprise some 16.3 million vehicles. Converting these fleets to electric, en masse, would be one of the quickest way to “drive initial ramp-up scale in the battery industry and OEM supply chains,” and help get the e-car industry off the ground.

And once that happens, predicted GE: “From renewable power generation to smart grid transformers to EV chargers — GE estimates that a wide-scale EV transformation will lead to up to $500 million in near-term business for GE.” So not only would GE help “green up” the environment. Not only would it save money by switching from gasoline power to electric. The company would also quickly get back half its investment in the form of other e-car users buying infrastructure products from GE. In the process, GE would grab pole position in the race to build an infrastructure for a new wave of electric vehicles — Ford’s (NYS: F) electric Focus and C-Max, Tesla’s (NAS: TSLA) Model S, Toyota’s electric RAV4 (also made by Tesla), and on and on.

All of which sounds great. But it does beg one question: Why is GE dragging its feet?

Dude, where are all the electric cars?
It’s been nearly 15 months since GE announced commitment to EVs. At the time, management elaborated that it intended to begin e-car purchases in 2011. First on GE’s shopping list was General Motors’ (NYS: GM) new Chevy Volt, which went on sale that year. But in future years, GE was fully committed to buying e-cars from Nissan, Ford, Tesla, whomever — just as soon “as manufacturers expand their EV portfolios.”


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