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The Democrats have made no secret of the fact they want to see plug-in cars being developed. Well, before the 100 hour agenda is ticked off into history, GM appears to be targeting a plug-in for introduction in three to four years:

Here is what GM's Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz has to say about the plug-in (using lithium-ion batteries):

But he thinks the issues can be solved in time for GM to sell a plug-in hybrid Volt. Lutz says he wants to bring one to market in the typical amount of time it takes to design and engineer a conventional car—about three or four years.

Here is the GM marketing pitch (for now):

Even with fatter electric bills, Volt drivers would save money. Add $300 in annual electric bills but cut gasoline expense by $1,200, and drivers save $900 a year.

And, here what the nay-sayers will be saying:

Imagine Seinfeld's George Costanza driving around the block a dozen times to find the perfect spot in front of his own place, and then needing an outdoor outlet to recharge the battery. If Jerry or George had an outdoor outlet, could they park in front of it? Or would Newman get the spot and charge his car's battery on Jerry's electric bill?

If people start recharging their cars at night, that is going to bring more pressure on the grid. Plus, if these cars are a success, the growth rate for electricity demand should increase sharply (recharging a car isn't the same impact as charging a cell phone at night). LOL

If the utilities want to get ready for this added demand, they are going to be very interested in AMSC's products. That interest, and the desire to get familiar operating these products before the demand starts to rise, should help AMSC sell product once the field trials are out of the way this year.

I thought 2006 was going to be the year to buy AMSC (and I did in December). Now it looks like 2007 is the year when everything starts to take off -- at least that's the way I see it.

Interested in who is going to be GM's battery supplier?

Lutz admits that the batteries are a real challenge. So GM has hired Cobasys to develop one battery and Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls (JCI) to develop another. "We're taking a calculated gamble," Lutz says. "We're kicking off a full vehicle development program and betting that the batteries will be done in that time."

My bet is on JCI. ENER and CVX (the owners of Cobasys) are working in the NiMH vehicle market and are not burdened by lots of "old technology". But, Cobasys has been slow to win contracts and they just announced that they will get their lithium technology from A123Systems.

Here is what JCI has to say about itself:

Johnson Controls is the leading global provider of automotive batteries. The company manufactures and distributes more than 110 million batteries annually, and is the world's largest producer of power-storage devices for passenger vehicles and other applications. Johnson Controls produces and markets many of the world's leading battery brands including Optima®, VARTA (Europe and Asia), LTH (Mexico) and Heliar (Brazil).

While JCI does hybrid batteries, they are a small fraction of the batteries they sell. But, here is a good press release from JCI (and partner Saft's) if you are interested in their lithium technology:

Disclosure: I own stock in CVX and AMSC.

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