Hybrid/Electric Tech Companies Meet In DC As Top Officials Debate ’Detroit Three’ Rescue Plans

December 02, 2008 by Jeff Shepard

As Congress and the new administration weigh sweeping measures to rescue the U.S. auto industry, dozens of companies that develop and build technology for hybrid and electric vehicles gathered in Washington D.C. this week to show their latest innovations and discuss how they fit into this changing landscape.

The conference and technological showcase put on by the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) coincidentally coincides with this week’s deadline for the Detroit "Big Three" automakers to present their individual recovery plans to Congress in hope of receiving a $25 billion rescue package.

Ener1 CEO Charles Gassenheimer said companies like Ener1 have a crucial role to play in the federal retooling effort. "The technology is here. The question is who is going to win the race to get it to market. Decisions we make as a nation today will determine whether or not our country remains competitive in the global automotive industry. Whether it is a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt or a fully electric car like the Th!nk City, the future depends on better batteries, We need dedicated federal support to ramp up production and drive down costs. That’s already happening in China, Korea, and Japan, as well as in Europe. It needs to happen here, and it needs to happen quickly or we will miss the boat."

According to conference participants, more than 75 hybrid models will hit the market by 2011. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to put one million plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015, and he has made clear that Detroit will not get the federal help it wants without clear commitments to change the way they do business. It is claimed that this means swift transition to next-generation technology and a concrete commitment to better fuel economy. Automakers are already putting lithium-ion batteries on the road in small numbers today, and growth is expected to be rapid.

Auto industry leaders have publicly echoed the call for more aggressive battery development. "One of the things we need to sort out as a country is batteries," Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr. was quoted as saying last week. "We really don’t want to trade one foreign dependency, oil, for another foreign dependency, batteries."

"It’s a game that we are behind in," GM CEO Rick Wagoner said when he was recently asked about the need for advanced batteries. "It doesn’t mean it’s a game that we lost. If we choose to go at it as a country we are really going to have to pick up the pace."