By Pete Brissette

General Electric is rethinking its plan that was first stated in 2010 to purchase 25,000 electric vehicles.

According to a Bloomberg report, GE’s corporate fleet services customers want choices beyond EVs; and with the current price of natural gas at one of the lowest points seen in the last five years, the company is looking to CNG and propane-powered vehicles as a way to maintain its stewardship of the environment.

GE’s Deb Frodl said GE’s intention two years ago of purchasing 12,000 GM electric vehicles by 2015 – among them the extended-range electric Chevy Volt – would now have to include other new models from GM to keep that purchase commitment on target.


“It’s the demand of our customers,” Frodl told Bloomberg as she echoed in her reasoning a refrain strikingly reminiscent of words spoken by Mitt Romney in the recent presidential debates. “There are so many technologies out there and our customers need a variety of technologies in their fleet today, not just one. We’re not picking winners and losers.”

The article also cites the comparatively higher costs of E-REVs, EVs, and plug-in hybrids, as influencing decision making at large corporations like GE.

With an MSRP of a little more than $39,000 for the Volt and $35,200 for the all-electric Nissan Leaf, CNG vehicles have become viable alternatives with natural gas at $3.24 per million British thermal units as of January 8.

“You can’t have this conversation without talking about the economics of natural gas,” Scott Sarazen, of Ernst & Young told Bloomberg. “Compared to a battery pack when the fuel is this cheap, it definitely impacts choices.”

Honda’s CNG-powered Civic has a starting MSRP of $26,305, but as Consumer Reports notes, it’s range is somewhat limited at 160-180 miles.

GE envisions its 25,000 electric and alternative-fuel vehicles flowing through two channels: 10,000 would be spread among its 65,000 fleet customers, and the rest would go to help the company replace half of its own 30,000 corporate autos.

GE is testing 300 Ford F-250 medium-duty CNG-powered vehicles, as well as buying 2,000 of the plug-in C-Max Energi according to the article.

“We’re delighted now that more automotive manufacturers come to market with new products for us to deploy,” Frodl said. “We’ve always globally multi-sourced the fleet. It was never the intention to be with just one automotive manufacturer.”

GE’s purchasing power indirectly influencing the consumer market

GE employees driving its fleet vehicles average about 100 miles a day, said Frodl. That’s well within the reach of the Volt’s total electric-plus-gas range, which the EPA says is 380 miles, and Ford’s C-Max Energi is good for a total range of 620 miles. However, the Leaf is only rated for an average of 73 miles per charge according to the EPA.

These extended ranges could help boost an E-REVs image in the mind of GEs fleet users, which Alan Baum, of Baum & Associates, says could indirectly help the success of GE’s charging station business, as well as E-REV sales.

“Employees satisfied with their cars are likely to tell friends and family about their experiences, providing a marketing boost, Baum told Bloomberg.

“If it somehow affects the density of charging stations and get into the psyche of the buyer who’s kind of on the fence, but suffering from a touch of range anxiety, then it can help on a broader level,” he said.