March 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Obama plans to visit electric vehicle facility

President will travel to California to see joint project between Ford and utility company.

Obama (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will visit an electric vehicle research facility this week, highlighting the administration's push for advanced technology vehicles.

But the president isn't visiting any of Detroit's Big Three automakers, opting instead for a research arm of a California utility. California is home to a number of small electric car start-up companies working to produce or convert vehicles to plug-ins.

Obama will visit Southern California's Edison Electric Vehicle Technical Center, a research center in Pomona, on Thursday.

"Obviously as we imagine an auto industry for the future, and I know the auto industry has put a lot of research and funding into the development of cars that can go 40 miles on one charge of a battery, the president hopes to focus and highlight the ability for clean energy jobs to spur economic growth and job creation as we go forward," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday.

Edison Electric has had a partnership with Ford Motor Co. on electric vehicle research since 2007. Ford provided Edison with a fleet of Ford Escape Hybrid SUVs to use as part of the plug-in project.

The technical center also services Southern Cal's test fleet of plug-in vehicles, which has logged more than 16 million miles.

Ford won a $10 million grant from the Energy Department last July along with Southern California Edison and Johnson Controls-Saft, a joint battery venture, on a project "to identify a pathway that accelerates mass production of plug-in hybrid vehicles."

In January, Ford announced it would bring a battery electric vehicle to market by 2011 and a plug-in by 2012.

Obama wants 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015 and the $787 billion stimulus package approved by Congress last month includes more than $2 billion for new advanced battery research.

Chrysler LLC will have produced 100 all-electric vehicles by year's end, and in January said it plans to have four electric models on the road in 2013. The company says it expects to have 500,000 electric vehicles on the road in four years. Toyota Motor Corp. will have a test fleet of 150 plug-ins on U.S. roads by early next year.

General Motors Corp. plans to begin production of its extended range electric vehicle -- the Chevrolet Volt -- late next year as well.

Southern California Edison is that state's largest electric utility, serving more than 13 million people in a 50,000-square-mile area. California has been pushing utilities to produce more power from renewable sources and automakers to produce zero-emission vehicles.

Last March, the California Air Resources Board agreed to reduce a requirement for automakers producing zero-emission vehicles to 7,500 from 25,000 between 2012 and 2014.

The original mandate, set in 1990, would have required automakers to produce 10 percent of their fleet as zero-emission vehicles by 2003.

Automakers sued to overturn it and the board pared it back in response.

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662-8735 or dshepardson@detnews.com">dshepardson@detnews.com.

John Bryson, left, chairman of Edison International, and Alan Mulally, ... (Ford)