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Plugging In Detroit's 'Big Three'

Six-part series on efforts by GM, Ford and Chrysler to develop and introduce electric vehicles.

Published: 01-Nov-2011

P> Hybrid and electric vehicles are far from becoming mainstream, so why are automakers throwing billions into a market that is anticipated to remain less than 10 percent of the industry in 2020?

According to analysts and the automakers themselves, it’s about tougher fuel economy standards and making sure all areas of technology are covered, so if, but more likely when, a technology “breakthrough” occurs, they will be ready to adapt.

“Nissan and their partner company Renault have spent more than $4 billion on electric vehicle technology and it remains to be seen if electric vehicles are the way of the future,” said Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain research at J.D. Power and Associates. “So, other carmakers have been more cautious and have spread their spending across hybrids, plugins and electric vehicles.

“They are kind of taking the latency approach to see what is the most successful before investing more money into one specific technology.”

This year, General Motors Co. announced details of the all-electric Chevrolet Spark, along with a ramp-up in Chevrolet Volt production; Ford Motor Co. is set to release its Focus Electric by the end of the year; and Chrysler Group LLC continues to develop and test its plug-in hybrid electric Ram 1500 pickup, along with plans to release a test fleet of Chrysler Town & Country minivans.

Omotoso said while each automaker is working on a different strategy there is likely to be no one right, environmentally friendly solution for the near to mid-term.

GM appears to be leading the way with its technology in the Volt, which can drive up to 50 miles on battery power alone and then uses a small gasoline engine connected to a generator extend the driving range to about 300 miles; Ford has the best diversification strategy; and although Chrysler is concentrating on larger hybrid vehicles, parent company Fiat SpA is expected to release an electric model of its popular Fiat 500 next year.

Over the next week, MLive.com will examine the strategies of Detroit's Big Three for hybrid and electric vehicles through a series called "Plugging-in."

Monday– Plugging in: Why are automakers spending billions on hybrid, electric vehicles?

Tuesday- Plugging in: Ford looks to C-Max hybrids, Focus Electric to lead electrified lineup

Wednesday- Plugging in: Chrysler goes big with electric hybrid vehicles; minivan test fleet due out in 2012


Thursday- Plugging in: GM learns from Chevy Volt launch, looks to diversify electrified lineup worldwide

Friday- Plugging In: Executive expects U.S. charging station market to substantially grow over tim

Saturday- Plugging in: What took automakers so long to return to electric vehicles? (A review)

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