GE boss Jeffrey Immelt announced today that his company, which builds power generation equipment and has recently made big bets in clean electricity, will place an order for “tens of thousands” of electric vehicles, for use by GE’s 45,000-strong sales force.

The timing and positioning couldn’t be better. Over the last 12-18 months, car manufacturers started taking electric cars a lot more seriously, and several models are on the way. This big push by GE could all but guarantee that we will soon see a takeoff in electric cars.

GE’s move is of course brilliant because beyond the good PR, the widespread adoption of electric cars will drive expansions and upgrades for the electric grid, providing decades of work for the likes of GE, which is already well positioned to take advantage of peak oil with clean electricity openings:

GE is investing $10 billion over the next five years in clean energy across its business lines, including power- transmission software and so-called smart-grid technologies. Its products include lithium-ion batteries for cars and trucks via a venture with A123 Systems Inc. and sodium-based batteries for use in large vehicles such as locomotives.

Technologically, as the electric car market enters takeoff phase, the most likely ultimate winning design for electric cars are serial hybrid plug-in cars, which are electric cars which can be recharged at home, with an on-board generator to assure drivers that they will not get stranded between charges.

I see this as a “battle of the titans” because to the extent that GE’s strategy is successful, a clean electric grid and electric cars will over the long term grow at the expense of refined oil products consumed by internal combustion motor vehicles. The electric car had been murdered at birth once before principally by the powerful fossil fuel interests, who merely had to threaten to increase oil supplies to keep auto manufacturers focused on internal combustion cars. Hence, the fact that automobile manufacturers and GE are now going their own way in opposition to vital fossil fuel interests speaks volumes about the realities of the peak plateau of oil production that we are currently in.