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General Electric: Driving Towards an Electric Car Future

I wrote in a column back in April: “On November 11, 2010, General Electric (NYS: GE) announced a grand plan to spend $1 billion buying electric cars for its workforce. Part of a strategy to first nurture, then dominate, the market for “plug in” car batteries and electric charging stations, GE would march in the vanguard of the Electric Revolution, converting half of its global corporate car fleet to electric power, and buying 25,000 electric cars over five years — ‘the largest single EV commitment ever.'” After getting off to a slow start, GE was finally beginning to deliver on its commitment — and pledged to equip its entire sales force at GE Healthcare with gas-electric “Volt” hybrids from General Motors (NYS: GM) .

The reasons were obvious. According to internal calculations, GE determined that gas-electric hybrids such as the Volt could cut fuel costs for the health care division by as much as 80%. What’s more, as GE CEO Jeff Immelt observed: “By electrifying our own fleet, we will accelerate the adoption curve, drive scale, and move electric vehicles from anticipation to action.”

Trouble in paradise
There was just one catch. While a fine car, the Volt is still, when all’s said and done, just a car. And while cars are fine for moving people, they’re simply not big enough to accomplish all the things a company like GE needs to get done. In April, therefore, GE issued a special exemption to its field engineers and other employees who needed to drive gas-powered SUVs and trucks, pending the arrival of electric vehicles large enough to suit their needs. GE knew such vehicles were coming. Ford (NYS: F) , for example, had a C-Max Energi electric minivan slated for release in model year 2013.

Well guess what, folks? 2013 is just around the corner, and yesterday, GE got an early Christmas gift from Ford. Announcing its first major deal for the new C-Max Energi, Ford confirmed yesterday that GE has ordered not one, not two, but two thousand C-Max plug-in hybrids for its fleet — “Ford’s largest-ever plug-in electrified vehicle fleet sale,” as the company said in a release.

Rated at 108 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) by the Environmental Protection Administration, versus 98 MPGe for the Volt, Ford’s C-Max isn’t just bigger than Chevy’s e-car. It’s better. According to Ford, between the vehicle’s battery reserves and its gas engine, the C-Max is capable of driving 620 miles straight on a single tank of gas — then filling up and continuing to motor on if it’s got more driving to do. Oh — and Ford says it’s going to sell the things for a starting price of under $30,000 after federal tax incentives — versus just over $31,000 for the Volt.


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