General Electric and General Motors Co. agreed Thursday on a pilot installation of electric vehicle charging stations in Shanghai, the latest step in the automaker's plan to develop infrastructure in China to support sales of its Chevrolet Volt electric car.
As part of the agreement, GE also agreed to buy the extended range electric cars for use at its corporate campus in Shanghai. GM plans to launch the Volt in December in China, where it has made electric vehicles a core part of its strategy for expansion despite doubts Chinese consumers will snap up such cars.
The companies gave no details about investment in the charging stations, which will include both GE's WattStations and Durastations, two different specifications for charging electric vehicles.
China is a linchpin market for GM. Earlier this week it announced plans for developing a new electric vehicle with its local partner Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corp. It also has just opened an advanced technology center to support its efforts to build more energy efficient and safer automobiles, with a lab devoted to developing new battery cells for EVs.
GE builds natural gas-fired generators for utilities, electric motors, advanced electric meters and electric car charging stations, all of which could be in higher demand if drivers buy electric cars. The company estimates the expanding market could bring it up to $500 million in revenue over the next three years.
China, the world's biggest market for new vehicles, is seen as a promising market for electric vehicles because of its keenness on limiting its dependence on costly imports of crude oil and reducing severe pollution from auto emissions.
The government has made development of so-called "new energy" vehicles a key part of its current five-year economic plan, promising subsidies and billions of dollars in new investments.
But spurring demand for electric and hybrid vehicles will hinge on providing the charging infrastructure, and bringing costs down to affordable levels, those working in the industry say.
Thursday's agreement calls for the two big U.S. companies to coordinate work with government agencies on developing EV standards.
In August, GE Energy also announced a partnership with car rental company Hertz Corp. for advancing the rollout of EVs and charging stations in China.