Utilities join automakers for plug-in r&d

DETROIT — Two electric utilities have joined a Detroit 3 partnership, promising to accelerate automakers' r&d efforts to commercialize plug-in hybrid technologies.

DTE Energy, of Detroit, and Southern California Edison, of Los Angeles, said last week that they are joining the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, the organization for collaborative research involving Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors.

The U.S. Department of Energy provides as much as half of the consortium's budget.

"This is a cross-fertilization of industries that didn't exist even 36 months ago," said Alexander Karsner, assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Karsner said the Energy Department is working on a yearly budget of nearly $100 million to develop plug-in vehicle technology. That's up from $1.4 million just two years ago.

Up to $42 billion in government loans are available to companies commercializing technology that "avoids, sequesters or reduces" greenhouse gases, Karsner said.

"We expect the automotive industry to be a major recipient of that," he said.

The consortium made the announcement at the Automotive Hall of Fame in suburban Detroit, where the Detroit automakers showed their upcoming plug-in vehicles.

GM said the plug-in version of its Saturn Vue crossover may be produced in 2010. Ford showed its plug-in Edge crossover, and Chrysler displayed the Jeep Renegade concept. 

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