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GE declares commitment to electric cars, shows new WattStation, at SAE World Congress

GE's CEO Jeff Immelt keynoted the 2012 SAE World Congress, demonstrating the shift towards electric vehicles underway, and showed the new networked GE WattStation charging station with features targeting charging station network owners.

The rise of electric vehicles is making for a shift in the corporate alignments behind producing the vehicles we buy. This week the SAE World Congress (yearly meeting of the Society for Automotive Engineers) met, and the opening keynote by GE's Chairman and CEO, Jeff Immelt, exemplified that shift. For the CEO of an electronics giant like GE to keynote the SAE World Congress is as symbolically interesting as when Daimler's Chairman, Dr. Zetsche, gave a keynote at CES last Winter. Immelt came to the SAE meeting to discuss GE's role in providing the infrastructure to support electric vehicle deployments, and to declare that GE is committed to electric vehicles. GE also chose the SAE World Congress to demonstrate the new GE WattStation line.

Recognizing that sales of electric vehicles have been slow to take off so far, Immelt said GE is "committed to the long-term development of this [electric vehicles]." The company has been involved for years supplying components in all levels of electrified vehicles, including on-board components, grid energy management systems, and the WattStation EV Charging station. Also because of the company's long-term involvement with manufacturing hybrid-electric diesel locomotives, GE has significant technology in lithium and sulfur batteries.

“We see changes in energy, changes in transportation, as big windows of opportunity in this country,” Immelt said. That is, as the transportation "fuel" shifts from gasoline to electricity, it causes a kind of tectonic shift in corporate power alignments which will take years or decades to play out. The oil companies are the entrenched suppliers of transportation fuel, but as the automobile, motorcycle and truck manufacturers shift to electrified drive trains it means a diminished role for the oil companies, and an enhanced role for electronics companies. However this shift will not happen overnight, and while in the short term electric vehicle popularity will "ebb and flow" as the technology matures, GE is "going to hang around the hoop." In other words, GE is in this for the long haul.

One sign of this is that in November 2010 GE committed to buying 25,000 electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles for its fleet, and that this would include 12,000 Chevy Volts. GE's motivation behind this commitment is clearly a corporate self interest, by helping to foster adoption of electric vehicles will accelerate the shift towards electricity as the transportation fuel, in turn helping GE's core business of selling equipment for the electricity infrastructure.

To date GE has purchased over 1,000 Chevy Volt's and is looking to buy more such vehicles, not only the Chevy Volt but other cars from Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan and others. The vehicle purchases are slated not only for GE's direct use, but in the vehicles the company leases to others as one of the largest fleet management operators in the world.

The GE WattStation is a line of electric car charging stations (EVSE) that was first shown in 2011. The new version is a fully networked device with remote management features, and the ability to set usage pricing. The WattStation pedestal style charging station has a QR code on the front (a kind of barcode) that can be scanned with a smart phone equipped with the WattStation Connect software. That software then identifies the charging station and the pricing to use that individual station. The station has three ways to connect to the Internet, cellular 3G, Wi-Fi or Ethernet, so that each WattStation is connected to the WattStation Connect network. Station owners use the WattStation Connect network to access and manage their charging stations.

The WattStation Connect software was developed in close cooperation with Hertz, a car rental company that is deploying electric vehicles in its rental fleet. The remote management and price setting features are more in line with the needs of charging station network owners, rather than individual car owners for their use at home.

“GE has a full range of electrical distribution products required to support EV deployment and to move power from the grid to the road, helping our customers operate in a smarter, more networked world,” said Michael Mahan, product general manager, EV infrastructure for GE Energy's Industrial Solutions business.


Scott Miller (not verified)    April 27, 2012 - 12:00PM

GE Watt Stations were officially introduced in July 2010. It has taken quite a while to get these to market. I have to wonder what the issues have been for them.