Long-derided as fanciful technology, all-electric vehicles got a huge confidence boost this week when General Electric announced two investments it said are aimed at making "electric transportation practical and affordable."
GE invested $4 million in Think, a Norwegian company that unveiled a new all-electric car as well as a concept car at the international auto show in Geneva, Switzerland, this week. The vehicles are not gasoline-consuming hybrids, but run solely on electricity.
GE also invested more than $20 million in A123Systems, a Massachusetts-based lithium-ion battery maker that is supplying Think with the batteries that store electricity.
The investments add to a broad GE portfolio that runs from appliances to the NBC television network. (NBC Universal is a partner in the venture that owns msnbc.com.)
Mark Little, GE's director of global research, said the strategy is true to the company's founding principles.
"Our researchers are improving energy storage and conversion technology as the key enabler of our founder Thomas Edison's vision of electricity as a viable propulsion system for vehicles, ranging from automobiles to industrial vehicles and locomotives," he said in a statement announcing the investments.
In Geneva, Think showed off its Think Ox, a five-seat crossover concept car, and its Think City, a two-door with a top speed of 65 mph that can go 120 miles before recharging.
The company said 1,400 of its vehicles are already on Norwegian roads, and that international sales of its City model will follow later this year, starting in Europe. The City price is expected to be around $30,000.
Think is no stranger to multinational corporations. It was actually owned by Ford Motor from 1999 until 2003, when the automaker sold its stake, saying the market for electric cars was too small and that it wanted to focus on other technologies for cleaner vehicles, including hydrogen fuel cells and the gas-electric hybrid vehicles.
GE's related transportation research includes a $5.6 million contract with the Energy Department to develop smaller, lower cost, better performing motors for hybrid electric vehicles. GE is also working on a $1.2 million project to develop advanced density capacitors and a $13 million project to build a prototype hybrid fuel-cell bus.