GE To Boost Electric Vehicle Fleet By 25K

GE To Boost Electric Vehicle Fleet By 25K

In what it is hailing as the largest commitment of its kind, GE will buy 25,000 electric vehicles over the next five years for its own fleet, as well as for customers in its fleet management business.

The company will first buy 12,000 electric vehicles from General Motors (GM), including its highly anticipated Chevrolet Volt 2011, which is due to hit the market by the end of the year. The remaining EVs will be added as manufacturers make new models available.

About half of its own 30,000-strong fleet will be converted to EVs, the company said, and it will also partner with its fleet customers to deploy the remaining EVs.

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

GE Capital boasts roughly 65,000 global fleet customers. To help them and its own employees gain access to electric vehicles, the company also said Thursday it would launch two learning centers in Michigan and Minnesota, with plans for more to be announced next year.

The company expects the move will strengthen the prospects for some of its products, namely the Watt Station, a plug-in charging station that can be deployed in homes and public areas. GE predicts the electric vehicle market could rake in as much as $500 million in revenue for the company in the next three years. GE also announced a few months ago it would work with Better Place on building charging infrastructure capacity, essentially ensuring that its WattStation charging points are compatible with Better Place's battery swap system.

The development marks the first wave of light-duty EVs to begin appearing in fleets, although some consider the Chevy Volt to be a hybrid since it also uses a gasoline-powered generator for battery recharging. Enterprise Rent-a-Car also announced this summer that it would add 500 all-electric Nissan Leafs to its rental fleet beginning in January. Medium-duty EVs are also operating in the corporate fleets of Staples, Frito-Lay, and PG&E.

GE's announcement is sure to give a boost to General Motors, just days before the once-beleaguered company's initial public offering, which is expected to take in roughly $10 billion. At the moment, the U.S. government is the largest GM shareholder, but its stake will shrink after next week's IPO.

"GE's commitment reflects confidence that electric vehicles are a real-world technology that can reduce both emissions and our dependence on oil," GM CEO Dan Akerson said. "It is also a vote of confidence in the Chevrolet Volt, which we will begin delivering to retail customers by the end of this year."