updated 8/18/2009 3:16:16 PM ET 2009-08-18T19:16:16

Ford Motor Co. said Tuesday its future electric cars will "talk" to power grids across the U.S., part of an effort to drive interest in alternative energy vehicles.

America's second-largest automaker released details of a two-year collaboration with about a dozen utility companies as well as the Department of Energy on the design of a system that allows car owners to control when they charge vehicles and for how long.

Owners can choose to recharge at off-peak times when electricity is cheaper, or when wind, solar or renewable energy is driving the grid, said Nancy Gioia, director of Ford's sustainable mobility technologies division. "What we're doing is developing our capability."

Ford and the utility companies are testing the system and have logged 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers) on a test fleet. The goal is to have a network in place so drivers can recharge their cars at preset times at home, work or elsewhere.

The system aims to develop technical standards so that a car purchased and used in Michigan, can "talk" to an electric grid in New York if the driver moves or travels.

Ford's first battery electric vehicle, the Transit Connect commercial van, will be available next year. A battery electric Ford Focus compact car will go on sale in 2011.

Mark Duvall, head of the Electric Power Research Institute, in Palo Alto, California, said that although the nation's current electric grid could handle widespread adoption of electric cars, more things can be done to use energy more efficiently. For example, drivers could recharge a car at 3 a.m. so it doesn't tax the grid and costs less.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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