Tony Earley, CEO of utility Pacific Gas and Electric in California and a member of Ford Motor Co.’s board, said today that he and his colleagues, along with Ford and General Motors employees, have discussed ways to convert gasoline vehicles into electric vehicles.
But the task comes with hurdles.
“Light-duty pickups are the key, so the Silverado and the F-150” are being considered for conversion, Earley said at a press conference following a Detroit Economic Club luncheon.
“But there’s a lot of engineering that has to go from changing a traditional vehicle into an electric vehicle, and it costs a lot of money.”
The groups discussed getting through some of the policy issues and bringing the cost down, he said.
“Is there a role for the Department of Energy to play to subsidize some of the upfront engineering costs?” said Earley, who was CEO at DTE Energy Co. in Detroit from 1998 to 2010.
Maybe specialty converters would work on the vehicles, and the automakers wouldn’t have to build the electric cars, he said.
“Maybe they’ll turn them over to their converters, so like a lot of the racing cars, they’ll take a standard issue car and convert it,” Earley said.
The primary challenge is underwriting some development costs so that an electric vehicle is more affordable.
Kevin Kelly, manager of electrification communications at GM, said that GM’s discussions with Earley and his colleagues were informal brainstorming sessions. They have not developed a strategy to make their current light vehicles electric.
The number of registered EVs is still low in comparison with total vehicles, but it is on the rise.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that there were 104,000 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and 70,000 battery electric vehicles on the road in 2013. That’s a small portion of the 226 million registered vehicles in the U.S.
Just 0.7 percent of new-vehicle sales were EVs so far this year, compared to 0.6 percent for the full year in 2013 and 0.4 percent in 2012.
Earley said there needs to be more action to push the EV market forward to long-term sustainability.
Seventy of the nation’s largest utilities will invest at least $250 million over the next five years to increase the use of electric drive technologies in their fleets, a Pacific Gas and Electric statement said. More commitments like this would help lower automakers’ development costs, Earley said.
Earley also advocated for “expanding the charging infrastructure” by building more charging stations at workplaces and other locations.