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Ford, Edison to test hybrids

The pair will explore plug-in vehicles that can recharge overnight and can return power to the grid during peak times.

July 09, 2007|Martin Zimmerman | Times Staff Writer

Southern California Edison Co. and Ford Motor Co. are expected to announce a partnership today that will include a multimillion-dollar test of plug-in hybrids.

Plug-ins are envisioned as the next-generation development of the current crop of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius.

Equipped with more powerful batteries that could be recharged overnight, plug-ins are designed to run for significant periods on electricity alone -- greatly increasing their fuel economy.

In addition to saving gas, Ford and Edison said, increased use of plug-in vehicles would lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce American dependence on imported oil.

The partnership will explore how plug-in hybrids would operate on a day-to-day basis and how they would fit into the state's electricity grid.

Ford wants to investigate ways to bring down the cost of the vehicles, including by using an innovative technology that allows plug-in vehicles to return unused power to the grid during periods of peak demand.

"They understand the grid, we understand the vehicles and together we can figure out how to optimize the system," said Susan M. Cischke, Ford's senior vice president for sustainability, environment and safety engineering.

Under the partnership, Ford will supply a batch of its Escape SUV hybrids to Edison to use. At a later date, it will provide plug-in versions of the vehicle to the utility for testing.

"We're taking this beyond laboratory-scale work to a systematic evaluation of its impact" on the grid, said John Bryson, chief executive of Edison's parent company, Edison International.

Edison serves almost 5 million residential and business customers in the Los Angeles Basin and parts of the coast and Central Valley.

Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally, who is scheduled to meet with Edison executives in California today, said earlier this year that he wanted his company to embrace "green" technologies. Ford was the first U.S. automaker to add a hybrid to its lineup when it introduced the hybrid version of the Escape.

The tie-up between Ford and Edison follows Google Inc.'s announcement last month of a program to speed the development of plug-in hybrids. -- the Internet giant's philanthropic arm -- awarded $1 million in grants and set aside $10 million to further research and development of the technology.

Google and Pacific Gas & Electric, the state's largest utility, displayed plug-in versions of the Prius and Escape hybrids, as well as a vehicle equipped to feed electricity back to the power grid. The plug-in Priuses achieved average fuel economy of 70 to 75 miles per gallon.

Other automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp., General Motors Corp. and Nissan Motor Co., are also pursuing plug-in technology or all-electric vehicles. One stumbling block has been perfecting the lithium ion batteries needed for such vehicles, and most experts estimate that plug-in vehicles won't be widely available until the end of the decade or even later.

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