Plug-In Hybrids Get Big Push from Californian Utility


California's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., is asking its 5.1 million customers to petition automakers to speed up development of plug-in electric-gasoline hybrid vehicles. Along with their power and gas bills for September, PG&E; customers are getting a request to lobby the automakers. PG&E; has joined with thhe Texas-based organization "Plug-In Partners" that has set up an Internet petition drive to pressure U.S. and foreign automakers to make cars that can charge up by plugging in to a regular 120-volt household outlet. (See our previous story on their campaign).The leading hybrid seller in North America is Toyota Motor Corp., which including August U.S. sales figures issued Friday is on pace to sell 198,000 hybrids in 2006, up from 145,560 in 2005. In June, Toyota said "hybrids will be the core technology of the 21st century."

Hybrids on the road use electricity generated by the gasoline-fueled engine. But affordable plug-in hybrids are a decade away, Toyota spokesman Bill Kwong said Friday. If that is so, said PG&E; spokeswoman Jann Taber, the petition drive and other efforts to pressure automakers could speed up the process of development to mass production.

"Automakers aren't convinced there are enough buyers," PG&E;'s Howard said. "That's why PG&E; is hoping to harness the power of its 5.1 million customers." The three major U.S. automakers, General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler, do not see hybrids as the winning alternative to gasoline-fueled vehicles. GM is in the early stages of plug-in hybrid development and has not committed to any production, spokesman Dave Barthmuss said.