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USA: Energy chief sees potential for electric cars

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Electric vehicles have the potential to help the United States wean itself off imported oil, despite a rocky start by some early models, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday.

“You’ll always find naysayers,” he remarked in an appearance at the New York Times Energy for Tomorrow Conference.

To back up his remark about doubters of electric cars being wrong, Chu said Scientific American magazine reported 100 years ago that the American automobile already had reached an engineering plateau. A banker for Ford Motor Co. /quotes/zigman/264304/quotes/nls/f F +1.02% once urged a friend at a party not to invest in the company, but the person invested $5,000 anyway and got a stake that eventually grew to be worth tens of millions, he added.

Click to Play Summer Airfares look sky-highSummer travelers are in for real sticker shock this year. Ticket prices to Europe, for example, are averaging double the price of last year so far, according to (Photo: AP)

During an earlier panel discussion on U.S. energy independence, Steve Nadel of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said electric vehicles have been hampered by higher price tags than conventional cars, but that the technology will win out in the long run.

Less optimistic was T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire energy executive who has been promoting a plan to use natural gas to power fleet trucks.

He said he saw a recent survey that said about 65% of the owners of hybrid cars, which use some of the same technology as electric cars, plan to move back to gasoline-powered cars. Moving trucks to run on natural gas could shave 3 million barrels out of the 5 million barrels of oil the U.S. imports each day from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, according to Pickens.

Last week, Nissan Motor Co. /quotes/zigman/202910 NSANY +3.03% Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn defended his company’s early entry into the electric-car market with the Leaf, but said production has been impacted by supply constraints tied to last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, as well as costs associated with a weaker yen. See related story about Nissan Leaf.


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