Racing to beat rival Toyota Motor Corp. to market with a high-volume plug-in electric hybrid vehicle, General Motors Corp. forms a collaboration with the Electric Power Research Institute and more than 30 U.S. power companies to speed the cars to market and ensure their arrival meets a compliant electrical infrastructure.

GM says it will work with EPRI “on everything from codes to standards to grid capability,” with hopes of accelerating the market introduction of its Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) alongside an electrical network robust enough for consumers to realize the car’s full benefit “as soon as they leave the showroom.”

Jon Lauckner, vice president-GM global program management, calls the coalition an opportunity to transform automotive transportation and rid the industry of its dependence on oil.

“This group is taking significant steps toward making electric vehicles a reality and in helping our customers enjoy the tremendous benefits these vehicles will provide,” Lauckner says in statement after revealing the coalition at a PHEV conference yesterday in San Jose, CA.

Arshad Mansoor, vice president-power delivery and utilization sector at EPRI, calls the collaboration “critical in the development of standards that will lead to the widespread use of electricity as a transportation fuel.”

Additional items on the docket for the coalition include safe and convenient charging, raising public awareness and working with public policy leaders to help transition from oil to electricity as a fuel source, GM says.

GM and EPRI received a conditional award last month from the U.S. Department of Energy to create a plug-in program using a Saturn Vue.

Ironically, one member of the coalition recently told Ward’s the nation’s electrical utilities are further along toward accommodating an influx of PHEVs than many people might imagine. And the additional power draw in off-hours would be helpful to the infrastructure.

“That’s something we’re much more prepared for than people understand,” Michael Morris, chairman, president and CEO of American Electric Power Co., says following a recent address in Detroit.

“The fact is (power stations) were made to run, not made to be up and down, up and down. The more they run around the clock, the better they are,” he says.

GM hopes to bring the Chevy Volt to market by the end of 2010, but Toyota leadership has challenged its engineers to beat that deadline. The Japanese auto maker began testing PHEVs in France with one of the country’s leading energy providers.

Toyota also recently announced a joint venture with Matsushita Group and Panasonic EV Energy Co. Ltd. to begin production of lithium-ion batteries in 2009, with full-scale production in 2010. Both GM and Toyota consider development of a safe, reliable and compact Li-ion battery as the key to the success of PHEVs.

Meanwhile, GM’s crosstown rival Ford Motor Co. is working with Southern California Edison on PHEV development.

Ford will provide SoCal Edison with up to 20 PHEVs by 2009 to test for durability, range and the impact on the power grid. SoCal also has placed cars with consumers to collect data for Ford.

Although the Chevy Volt and other future PHEVs share some characteristics, most notably the ability to recharge their battery packs overnight via a common household outlet, GM likes to call its upcoming electric car an EREV. Unlike other PHEVs, which generally rely on engine power during their operating cycle, Volt would never tap its on-board, range-extending internal combustion engine unless it covers more than 40 miles (64 km) between charges.

GM also intends to bring a more conventional plug-in vehicle to market in the 2010 timeframe with the Saturn Vue PHEV.