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U.S. backs $30 million to build plug-in hybrids

Department of Energy aims to help bring plug-in hybrids to market by launching three projects with major U.S. auto makers.

The Department of Energy announced a $30 million effort Thursday with Ford, General Motors, and General Electric to bring to market by 2014 plug-in hybrid electric cars that drive 40 miles on a single charge.

"The projects announced today demonstrate a shared public-private sector commitment to advance clean vehicle technologies and will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil while also confronting the serious challenge of global climate change," Andy Karsner, assistant secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said in a statement. He made the announcement Thursday at a conference on plug-in electric vehicles sponsored by the Brookings Institution and

Among the trio of three-year projects, General Motors would seek to improve lithium-Ion battery packs and charging systems, integrating its research by 2011 within a test fleet. On its team are the Electric Power Research Institute, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Ford is charged with speeding up the mass-production of plug-in hybrids, focusing on improving batteries and building prototype vehicles. Also involved with its project are utility Southern California Edison, the Electric Power Research Institute, and Johnson Controls-Saft, which specializes in battery technology for hybrids.

Also part of the government's project, General Electric is partnering with Chrysler to develop a dual-battery system enabling a vehicle to travel 40 miles on an electric charge.

The government and auto makers will split the funding. The Department of Energy's intended half would rely on appropriations by Congress.

Earlier Thursday, General Motors' North American president Troy Clarke pleaded for government help to improve car battery technology. Electric vehicle makers are on the prowl for lighter batteries with better range and improved energy density.

Toyota, meanwhile, aims to sell a plug-in hybrid by 2010.

The Department of Energy also announced that it will add a flex fuel, plug-in hybrid Ford Escape to its fleet for officials to use around Washington, D.C. The car accepts 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.