General Motors Vice President for Global Power Development Jon Lauckner used the 2008 Plug-in Conference in San Jose, California, to confirm that the Chevrolet Volt program remains on schedule and that the first production units are now slated to roll off the line in November of 2010. Neither he nor any other GM spokesmen put any finer point on the specific date of job one -- nor did they shed additional light on the likely pricing of the Volt E-Flex, which is currently expected to sticker around $40,000 but some feel might start closer to $30K.

The biggest news to come out of the conference concerned a far-reaching collaboration between GM, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and 34 major electric utilities in 37 states and three Canadian provinces to develop new and more efficient ways to integrate the demands of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) with existing and future grid infrastructures. Arshad Mansoor, EPRI's vice president of Power Delivery and Utilization summed up the most comprehensive cooperative effort of its kind to date by noting: "This research program will help link a low-carbon generation portfolio and a smart grid, which in turn will facilitate widespread adoption of electricity as an alternative transportation fuel." He went on to say that "PHEVs have the potential of creating tremendous value for society by use of lesser emitting and lower cost electricity."

The focus of this expansive integrated effort will include three primary functional areas, starting with developing the technical interface necessary to balance the on/off-peak charging demands of future EVs. The second key point involves creating programs that more effectively educate the public about the potential benefits -- and requirements -- of large-scale plug-in use. Finally, the group plans to collectively establish unified policies for dealing with federal, state and local governments on everything from potential consumer incentives to practical usage issues that will impact the transition from a petroleum-based to an electricity-intensive transportation model.

Lauckner reinforced GM's full commitment to working closely with EPRI and the other utility partners in this new undertaking, which also has the potential to impact pure EVs as well as plug-ins, saying: "Electrically powered vehicles are going to provide tremendous benefit and excitement for the customer, while also hastening the move to a more diverse choice of energy alternatives. But we know that there are some key elements that need to be understood and put in place so customers can enjoy those benefits and get maximum use of these vehicles when we do bring them to market."

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