The nascent electric vehicle industry may be getting a big boost from one of its major players. General Electric will order “tens of thousands” of electric-powered vehicles in about a week, chief executive Jeffrey Immelt said.
Immelt might even help one of GE’s major investments in the field. The electricity powerhouse is a major stockholder in automotive battery developer A123 Systems.
Immelt is talking about an order that is so huge that it would likely involve more than one supplier and possibly several. According to Bloomberg news, Immelt made his comments during a speech in London, where he noted that half of GE’s 45,000-member sales force will be driving electric vehicles. However, the company hasn’t released details of the order.
A123 has had an up-and-down history, losing some orders while gaining others. Last month, A123 opened a sprawling 291,000-square-foot factory in Livonia, Mich. In addition to funding from GE, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the company a $249 million grant under the auspices of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. With headquarters in suburban Boston and with much of its original lithium-ion technology research coming from MIT, the company has also received financial assistance from the state of Michgan.
The lithium-ion battery maker has contracts with Navistar and Fisker to provide advanced batteries for their vehicles. An earlier partnership with Chrysler was dropped. In its most recent quarterly financial report, A123 reported a $34.2 million loss.
GE has been a big backer of renewable energy, and Immelt used the London speech to urge more private spending on renewable energy. “Now is exactly the time, because it’s less popular, where we have to invest more,” he said. “We have to do it more courageously. And we’re going to have to go forward for a while without government at our backs.”
President Obama has been an ardent supporter, too, of renewable energy. When A123 dedicated the Livonia plant, Obama called A123 executives and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to congratulate them on the plant opening.