The timing of the U.S. Department of Energy's $30 million plug-in hybrid funding announcement indicates it has been in the works for quite some time, but coming right on the heels of Ford's call for a government commitment to the technology, it looks like the Blue Oval got just what it wanted. The funds will be available over a three-year period from 2008-2011 for the development of technology in key areas for future plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).

The three companies chosen to receive the grants include General Motors, Ford and General Electric. The GM project will work on lithium-ion battery packs and their integration into both the vehicle and home charging system. The PHEVs developed through this program will be deployed to a demonstration fleet in three U.S. regions. Ford's project will focus on speeding up mass-production of PHEVs including streamlining the design and manufacturing processes of key elements. General Electric's portion of the fund will go toward the development of the new dual-battery technology energy storage system the company is developing with Chrysler.

Although the funds pale in comparison to the $500 million Green Car Innovation Fund recently established by Australia's government, the DOE project hopes to kick-start work on PHEVs with the goal of reaching cost-competitiveness with more conventional solutions by 2014 and commercial viability by 2016.

Those dates will place the DOE project vehicles well behind the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota's recently announced PHEV, not to mention Nissan's planned EV, all set to arrive in 2010. But the DOE is also taking steps to help boost the present profile of PHEVs by adopting a Ford Escape FlexFuel PHEV into its fleet.