General Electric Co., saying it wants to help spark the electric vehicle industry, said Thursday that it would purchase 25,000 electric vehicles for its fleet by 2015.
The Fairfield, Conn., company said its strategy represented the largest-ever electric-vehicle commitment by a company or organization. The plan includes buying 12,000 Chevrolet Volts, which General Motors Co. will start selling by year-end.
"Electric-vehicle technology is real and ready for deployment, and we are embracing the transformation with partners like GM and our fleet customers," said Jeff Immelt, GE's chief executive. "By electrifying our own fleet, we will accelerate the adoption curve, drive scale and move electric vehicles from anticipation to action."
Michelle Krebs, an analyst with auto information firm Edmunds.com, said that a company with such a large fleet of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles "could certainly become an important driver behind the build-out of car-charging infrastructure."
GE's plan "will likely serve as the catalyst for other fleets" and also help bring down the cost of electric-car battery development, said Oliver Hazimeh, a partner at PRTM, a global management consulting firm.
The Volt uses a gasoline engine to create electricity and power the car when its battery charge runs down. That extends the range of the Volt to hundreds of miles and beyond that of pure battery electric vehicles but also classifies the car as a plug-in hybrid.
Immelt noted that GE makes technology that "touches every point of the electric-vehicle infrastructure" and is involved in updating the electrical transmission grid to handle the proliferation of electric autos. GE also makes a charging station called the WattStation.
GE said it would benefit from growth in electric auto sales and estimated that its varied divisions, including Capital Fleet Services, Energy, and Licensing and Trading, would benefit from an emerging electric-vehicle market that could deliver up to $500 million in revenue over the next three years.
GM was pleased with GE's selection of the Volt.
"GE's commitment reflects confidence that electric vehicles are a real-world technology that can reduce both emissions and our dependence on oil. It is also a vote of confidence in the Chevrolet Volt," said Dan Akerson, the automaker's chief executive.
Krebs said a large fleet would allow GM to study the use of its cars and deal with issues that crop up and would lead to improvements for future generations of plug-in vehicles.
"GE's purchase will drive sales to help GM offset the vast investments it made in pioneering technologies. Automakers are unlikely to make money on new technologies out of the starting gate, but a big purchase like this helps accelerate their return on investment," Krebs said.
GE said it would convert at least half of its 30,000-vehicle global fleet and would partner with its fleet-leasing customers to deploy a total of 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015.