GE Commits to Biggest Electric Vehicle Purchase Ever

In the largest single purchase of electric vehicles ever, General Electric committed to buy 25,000 electric vehicles to stock its fleet, including 12,000 Chevy Volts. (As a reference point, General Motors plans to build no more than 60,000 Volts in 2012.) This isn't charity, but rather a strategic purchase intended to goose the industry. As Forbes' Joann Muller notes, GE has a vested interest in the success of the electric vehicle business.

"Electric vehicle technology is real and ready for deployment and we are embracing the transformation with partners like GM and our fleet customers," said GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt. "By electrifying our own fleet, we will accelerate the adoption curve, drive scale, and move electric vehicles from anticipation to action."

GE, of course, has a vested interest in the shift toward electric vehicles. It sells vehicle charging stations, circuit protection equipment and transformers that are key elements of the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles. It also has a partnership with California-based Better Place to offer financing for battery purchases for Better Place's battery exchange stations and is a major shareholder of battery maker A123 Systems. GE also has interests in smart-grid and power transmission technologies as well as the wind and solar energy industries."

But without large-scale purchases like GE's to serve as a market catalyst, electric vehicles could remain out of reach for many.

"GE's action is a critical step in the role that fleets can play in utilizing more than 20% of the announced battery manufacturing capacity by 2015, thus helping accelerate the scale-driven cost reductions in advanced batteries," said Oliver Hazimeh, partner and head of the global e-Mobility practice at PRTM, a global management consulting firm.

There's a neat historical symmetry here. As detailed by historian David Kirsch, around 1900, when electric cars were involved in a heated competition with their gasoline-powered counterparts, the new electric companies really left the EV guys hanging. They didn't build charging infrastructure or help support the fledgling industry. That's not the only reason electric cars failed 100 years ago, but it sure didn't help.

Read the full story at Transmissions at Forbes.