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Published January 15, 2008 10:29 AM

Auto Companies Need to Work Together on Battery Technology

Plug-in hybrids - PHEVs - could revolutionize the impact cars have on the environment...if only they had the right battery.

General Motors, Toyota, and other auto manufacturers hope to put their first plug-ins on sales floors by the year 2010. When they do, all you'll have to do is plug your vehicle into a regular 120-volt electrical socket, charge the car for several hours overnight, and drive away. You won't need a single drop of gasoline! In fact, because electricity is cheaper than gasoline, the fuel cost is expected to be the equivalent of less than $1/gallon of gas.

Here at the North American Auto Show, car makers are trumpeting their fuel-efficient plug-ins with the same zeal that's being devoted to their gas-guzzling SUVs and luxury vehicles. Why?

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Jennifer Moore, Corporate News Manager for Ford Motor Company, says, "Automakers respond to consumer choice. We wanted to do the right thing for the environment, but we also listened to what people said they wanted to buy."  Score one for green consumer demand!

Still, plug-ins are at least two years away from occupying a spot on your driveway. What's holding manufacturers up is their need to perfect the lithium-ion battery they're all using to store the car's electric power. The battery is complicated to engineer, expensive to make, and tricky to integrate with the rest of the car design.

At a press conference earlier today, I asked Tony Clarke, President for General Motors North America, why all the automotive companies couldn't band together to pool research resources and accelerate battery development.

Clarke initially responded with the traditional corporate-think response: "The first company that brings the battery technology to market will have tremendous consumer advantage." In other words, there's a lot of money at stake.

But when pressed, Clarke acknowledged that the sooner all companies have the technology, the faster automakers will be able to profit from what is clearly the next wave in energy-efficient automotive technology.  If other companies collaborate, "we'd love to be a part of that," GM's Clarke said.

Clearly, the sooner that happens, the sooner the environment and public health will benefit as well.

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