Google Jumps Into Hybrid Electric Cars


Kieron Murphy

There must be a clear-cut connection between search engines and automobiles, especially environmentally friendly ones. That's the only explanation for the two largest Internet search providers announcing hybrid car initiatives over the last few weeks.

In May, Yahoo! launched its Greenest City in America Challenge (see "New York's Famous Yellow Cabs Go Green" in this space), promising a fleet of hybrid taxis to the U.S. city it judges to have made the best effort to improve its environmental conditions. Today, Google got into the act by sponsoring a hybrid electric car effort aimed at developing a 100-mile-per-gallon street vehicle.

The Google endeavor is called RechargeIT. It aims to reduce CO2 emissions, cut oil use, and stabilize the electrical grid by accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. The Mountain View, Calif., Web services firm said it is offering US $1 million in grants, as well as providing another $10 million in subsequent funding, to those developing plug-ins able to get 70 to 100 miles per gallon. Google said it will also switchover its corporate fleet of autos to the hybrid electric form and finish a 1.6 megawatt solar-power facility to fuel the fleet, among other environmental measures.

"Since most Americans drive less than 35 miles per day, you easily could drive mostly on electricity with the gas tank as a safety net," Dan Reicher, director of Climate and Energy Initiatives for Google.org, wrote on the organization's Web site. "In preliminary results from our test fleet, on average the plug-in hybrid gas mileage was 30-plus mpg higher than that of the regular hybrids."

Google said it is awarding the first $1 million grant to: the Brookings Institution to run a conference on plug-ins; CalCars and Plug-In America to educate the public about plug-ins; and the Electrical Power Research Institute, the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Willett Kempton from the University of Delaware for plug-in R&D.

"Linking the U.S. transportation system to the electricity grid maximizes the efficiency of our energy system," Reicher added. "Our goal is to demonstrate the plug-in hybrid and V2G technology, get people excited about having their own plug-in hybrid, and encourage car companies to start building them soon."

[Editor's Note: See our Automotive Section for more stories on hybrid electric cars. Also see a report in this space, "Engineering an Auto Engineering Contest", on our automotive correspondent's recent exclusive inside look at the upcoming Automotive X Prize competition.]

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