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U.S. electric car loans may not be disbursed

President Barack Obama listens as his Energy Secretary,

President Barack Obama listens as his Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, addresses the media at a news conference in Chicago. (Dec. 15, 2008) Credit: AP

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said it “remains to be seen in the future” whether about $16 billion in available U.S. government loans to develop alternative- technology vehicles will be disbursed.

Providing money for electric-vehicle development was a component of President Barack Obama’s goal of having 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015, a number well above current forecasts.

The goal is “ambitious, but we’ll see what happens,” Chu said after touring displays at the Washington Auto Show, where he looked almost exclusively at alternative-fuel vehicles including Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf and General Motors Co.’s Cadillac ELR.

Obama’s administration hasn’t made a loan under the alternative-technology program, created in 2008, since March 2011. Since then, it’s rejected or not acted on applications from companies including Chrysler Group LLC.

“We’re always open to great ideas,” Chu said.

Last January, the U.S. rescinded a $730 million commitment to OAO Severstal, Russia’s second-largest steelmaker by output. The department in May 2011 froze most of the $529 million loan it made to Fisker Automotive Inc., one of five loan recipients, for not meeting production milestones. During last year’s presidential campaign, Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan referred to Fisker and other green-energy assistance recipients as “losers.”

Chu said he wants to bring the cost of buying a plug-in five-passenger vehicle down to $20,000 to $25,000. Reducing the weight of electric cars will be part of the way to reduce costs, he said.

“The thrill of driving by a gas station and smiling is one everybody should experience,” Chu said.

Chu declined to say whether he will stay in office as Obama begins his second term.

Chu, 64, was a career scientist and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics when he joined the Cabinet in January 2009.

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