Plug-In 2008: Detroit, Meet the Startups

At a time of record high gas prices and presidential candidates who are fighting over energy platforms, what could be more prescient than a conference highlighting plug-in vehicles? The first annual Plug-In 2008 conference kicks off this morning in downtown San Jose, and it looks to have hit a nerve. At least for the automakers and startups building the next-generation of technology.

Big Detroit has a major presence at the show, as the major automakers have started to embrace more fuel efficient vehicles in the face of difficult times for their businesses. Last night we reported that General Motors will be working with a consortium of over 30 utilities and the Electric Power Research Institute to push standardization, customer education and policy issues for plug-ins. Ford, which reports quarterly earnings this week and is reportedly shifting its focus to smaller vehicles, has representatives speaking during the show, and there will be two Ford plug-in vehicles on display: a Ford Escape at EPRI’s booth and an F-150 at Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technologies booth.

Much of the floor will be taken up by younger startups with technology for smart charging, quick charging, and plug-in conversion kits. A123System’s Hymotion is displaying its technology, and smart-charging startup Coulomb Technologies is demoing its tech on a Saturn Vue plug-in. Venture Vehicles plans to show a pure electric Alpha prototype (update: looks like Venture Vehicles cancelled) and Zap is expected to show off its Xebra and electric scooters.

One of the big highlights will be a lunchtime keynote from former head of Intel turned plug-in vehicle advocate Andy Grove. Grove, now 71, tells Bloomberg that in his speech he will discuss his concerns about global warming and reiterate his call for 10 million vehicles that can run 40 miles on all-electric battery power before the gas engine kicks in, within four years. Bloomberg also says Grove will advocate tax credits and interest free loans for plug-in conversions.

We’ll be blogging the events and taking video footage of the vehicles at the show. Stay tuned.

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