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Business leaders descended on Washington, D.C., Wednesday to talk about how to shake America's dependence on oil, and several talked up alternative fuel sources.
Fred Smith, chairman and CEO of FedEx Corp., a company that lives and dies by managing fuel costs, said electric vehicles were a great alternative to regular trucks for short-haul routes.
For Dan Akerson, chairman and CEO of General Motors, compressed-natural gas vehicles "are the future."
At the conference organized by Securing America's Future Energy, a group that advocates reduced oil dependency, there was plenty of hand-wringing about the cost of U.S. oil addiction, despite the recent domestic oil-production boom.
The Obama administration has been pushing alternative transportation fuels for years, but market penetration of vehicles powered by electric motors or other alternatives remains limited.
GM's Mr. Akerson announced a new bi-fuel Chevrolet Impala, using both conventional gasoline and compressed natural gas. While gasoline will still be the "fuel of choice" in the near and medium term, advances in both batteries for extended-range electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt and CNG for passenger cars are driving interest from personal consumers and fleet customers, he said.
"We'd build boatloads of CNG vehicles if the (refueling) infrastructure were there," he said.
Longtime energy investor T. Boone Pickens, an admittedly interested party, ticked off the advantages of shifting part of the transportation system to natural gas: "It's cheaper, it's cleaner, and it's ours."
FedEx's Mr. Smith said he liked electric vehicles for short and natural gas for longer-haul trucks. "We strongly believe that, over time, all-electric for short-haul light-duty commercial vehicles will be very compelling as the next generation of batteries come out," he said.
Among the advantages over diesel: Per-mile operating costs are lower, and "cities love them because there's zero emissions," he said.
"You do have some pioneers out there, and pioneers often get arrows in their back," Mr. Smith said. "But if you get it right, you end up with a tremendous competitive advantage."