No Greenwash: General Electric to Purchase 'Tens of Thousands' of Plug-ins Next Week

· · 10 years ago

As the world's second largest corporation (with annual revenues of upwards of $150 billion,) General Electric has a lot of salesmen—about 45,000 actually. Now, in what is being described as the largest EV acquisition in history, GE has committed to putting half of that sales staff behind the wheel of a new electric car, constituting a purchase of as many as 22,500 plug-ins.

CEO Jeffery Immelt told a crowd in London that the manufacturing and engineering giant will begin placing orders for the cars next week. Though no hints were dropped about who will supply the vehicles, points out that GE is likely to purchase the bulk of the fleet from Renault-Nissan due to the carmaker's capacity to meet the order soon, and because of overlapping business interests shared by the two multi-nationals:

  • GE and Nissan are collaborating on smart-charging research and development.
  • Both companies have relationships with Shai Agassi's battery swapping startup, Better Place.
  • Nissan is the only international car company building plug-ins with swappable batteries.
  • GE's “technology and financing partnership” with Better Place has been specially focused toward meeting the needs of corporate fleets.

That isn't to say that GE will be purchasing the vehicles exclusively through Renault-Nissan (it most likely will not,) or that its American sales fleet will rely upon battery-swapping (also an extremely remote possibility.)

A General Interest in Electric Driving

It isn't known whether this move was at all inspired by potential savings on fuel costs. No all-electric corporate fleet even approaching this size has ever been assembled, and it's unclear at this point whether under current conditions one might be capable of contributing to a company's bottom line.

But regardless of whether GE was motivated by fiscal considerations or the desire to boost its corporate social responsibility credentials, the driving factor in the decision was likely the company's own financial interest in electric vehicle adoption. In addition to its relationship with Better Place, GE:

  • Is heavily promoting its new WattStation vehicle chargers in television spots shown throughout the country.
  • Has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in clean energy ventures by 2015, including companies like Better Place and A123 Systems.
  • Will spend $10 billion over the next five years on research and development for its own Ecomagination line, which will feature a range of EV infrastructure products including the WattStation, smart-grid technologies, and solar and wind power fittings for charging stations.

As for the announcement's effect on the nascent electric vehicle industry? With neither Nissan nor General Motors planning to sell more than 100,000 EVs in the United States for several years, an immediate order or nearly 23,000 vehicles will no doubt be a boon to those models' bottom lines. And if the program is a success, GE always has about 250,000 other employees worldwide who might be interested in a new car as well.

New to EVs? Start here

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