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As Oil Prices Rise, Carmakers Look to Electric Future

Rising oil prices and improvements in battery technology are fueling new interest in developing electric cars. Spencer Michels reports on how industry giants and start-up car companies alike plan to release new vehicles by 2010.

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  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    For decades, the American public has been taunted with the promise that noiseless, gasoline-free, powerful, and sleek cars that run on cheap electricity were just around the corner.

    That moment may finally be at hand, according to General Motors' chairman Rick Wagoner.

  • RICK WAGONER, CEO, General Motors:

    The auto industry can no longer rely almost exclusively on oil to supply the world's automotive energy requirements.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Cars that don't use gasoline but run on electricity have long been almost ready, but batteries that would stay charged for a long ride were not.

    In 1914, Henry Ford's wife drove around in this electric beauty. And in the last 20 years, big automakers rolled out a series of electric prototypes and hinted they would be available soon.

    In 1996, I went for a ride in a $19,000 all-electric sports car called a Zebra, made by a startup in California whose part-owner thought the future looked bright.

  • GARY STARR, Zebra Motors:

    We're taking orders for the first limited run of 500, which will be built next year.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    But Zebra, like a lot of optimistic electric car makers, went out of business, and its successor company, while producing scooters, bikes, and some short-range vehicles, has not delivered electric full-scale cars yet.

    Also in 1996, the most famous electric vehicle of all was put on the market, General Motors' EV1, which it leased to motorists. But in 2003, GM pulled the plug, recalled the cars, and claimed the public wasn't ready and the cars were not profitable.