Sixteen months ago, General Electric announced it would place the "largest order in history" for electric cars, to be used by its employees who are issued company cars.
Now, those cars are starting to arrive and be placed with employees.
And where changes are made, personnel policies are sure to follow.
A person inside GE recently forwarded a memo to us that covers some of the nuts and bolts of using the 2012 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car. It's from the fleet operations manager for GE Healthcare.
Among the interesting points:
"All sedans ordered in 2012 will be the Chevrolet Volt"
Crossovers and minivans will be replaced by electric-vehicle sedans, i.e. the Volt
Field engineers (who presumably have to carry equipment and spare parts) are the exception to the Volt-only rule
Home assessments for installation of a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station will be provided to all Volt drivers
If it's not possible to install a Level 2 station, employees should use standard 110-Volt charging
If no electric power is available, driving the Volt using only its gasoline range extender is permitted
Employees should expense both public charging-station costs and the Volt-recharging portion of their monthly electric bills
If new GE drivers opt out of the fleet-vehicle program and choose to use a personal car, GE will not reimburse those expenses
Existing drivers will not be reimbursed for personal-vehicle use after January 1, 2013
Stand by for shrieking from certain segments of the media about how "GE Forces Employees Into Electric Cars!"
But, more seriously, why is GE pushing the Volt so hard?
First, its fleet managers have likely calculated that over the multi-year lifetime of the Volt, the company will save money on operating costs.
Fleet managers are notoriously hard-nosed spreadsheet jockeys, and are willing to spend more upfront on a car (the 2012 Volt starts at $39,995 before the $7,500 Federal tax credit) if the running costs end up saving money over the total mileage it covers.
The cost of a mile driven on electricity is generally one-third to one-fifth that of a mile driven on gasoline (depending on gasoline and electricity prices and the gas mileage of the comparison vehicle).
So GE likely figures that paying recharging costs will end up saving it money on gasoline over several years.
Second, GE makes electric-car charging stations, and its WattStation ads have been heavily publicized.
For the company, championing electric cars is a good way for employees to get familiar with plug-in vehicles that need to be recharged. In Silicon Valley, they call that "eating your own dogfood."
The GE order could add many thousands of vehicles to Volt sales in 2012, and we suspect that most GE drivers will warm quickly to the smooth, quiet experience of electric propulsion.
One note of concern: The electric-car advocate who sent us the memo was deeply disturbed that all-gasoline running was allowed.
We're not quite so worried about that, since its ability to run on gasoline once the battery pack is depleted is the heart of the Volt's flexibility--no range anxiety.
Since most GE Healthcare employees will use their company cars on fairly predictable daily travels, many of them less than 40 miles, their Volts are likely to spend the vast majority of their miles running on battery power.
After all, Level 2 charging or not, everyone's got a 110-Volt socket somewhere.
For all we know, GE may have a deal with GM's Onstar to get access to the detailed usage data for its Volts--which would allow the company to learn exactly how its employees drive its Volts.
A year hence, we may see a GE press release touting all the gasoline it has displaced by running on grid power. We hope so, anyhow.
We've reproduced the entire text of the memo, addressed to GE Healthcare's "Americas Team," on the next page.