DEARBORN, MI – DTE Energy, a Detroit-based energy company, and Southern California Edison join the U.S. Council for Automotive Research LLC (USCAR), two additions meant to speed the group’s research on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Alexander Kasner, assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy-U.S. Department of Energy, calls the involvement of DTE and SoCal Edison critical to putting thousands of PHEVs on the road in the coming years and solving “the immediate problem of our addiction to foreign oil imports.”

Kasner says the program will seek to make PHEVs an affordable option for consumers, ending the idea that green vehicles are a luxury niche for wealthy individuals.

“You would like to see these cars in all driveways,” Kasner says during a media event here.

Auto makers believe the existence of a robust electrical infrastructure, which many consider already heavily burdened by America’s daily energy demands, as a key enabler to the mass production of PHEVs.

Dan Burzynski, head of regulatory affairs at DTE, says energy companies intend to make numerous technical upgrades to meet the increased demand.

“Our commitment for many, many years has been to strengthen the system,” he says, noting a current DTE, General Motors Corp. and University of Michigan inititative jointly is examining the integration of PHEVs to the electrical grid.

“We have a good idea of the challenges and the changes we’ll need to make to adapt to this new dimension to the electrical system.”

Burzynski points to advanced metering technologies as one area under development.

“You’ll be able to manage the load better, and the customer will have more interaction in the energy equation, which will enable time-of-day pricing,” he says. “It puts choice in the consumers hands.”

USCAR is a DOE-funded umbrella organization for collaborative research among GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC.

jamend@wardsauto.com