On Monday, presidential candidate John McCain unveiled a new initiative to help America "break the back" of its oil dependency, declaring that as president he would offer a $300 million prize to anyone who could develop advanced battery technology to make plug-in hybrid cars practical at "30 percent of current costs." Now Democratic candidate Barack Obama is addressing his opponent's proposal, calling it a "gimmick" and saying that to truly cut the amount of foreign oil used in the U.S., it will require a major effort from the combined resources of the nation.
Explaining that "when John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn't put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win," Obama believes that to speed alternative fuel development and increase fuel-efficiency, the full power of the government must be combined with the "ingenuity and innovation of the American people." Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow seconds Obama's belief, calling McCain's proposal a "game show" and noting that Japan, China, and South Korea have all invested in battery technology already. Recently Chrysler's Jim Press claimed that development of Toyota's hybrid system was funded entirely by the Japanese government while U.S. companies have paid for their own research, and while the automaker denies this, its competitors have struggled to make their gas-electric vehicles profitable. And though the Department of Energy finally awarded the Big Three grants for plug-in hybrid development, the funding only totals a meager $30 million.
Despite his statements, according to Obama's website he does support prizes to spur innovation in some cases. Regarding cellulosic ethanol, the Senator says he "will invest federal resources, including tax incentives, cash prizes and government contracts into developing the most promising technologies." McCain also supports the use of tax incentives, proposing a $5000 credit for zero emission vehicles, and in addition both candidates have expressed support for tougher fuel economy fines. However Sen. Obama also wants to offer domestic automakers a $150 billion helping hand to aid in building alternative-fuel vehicles.
McCain's aides are busy fleshing out the details of the $300 million battery bounty, saying the plan is to award the prize to anyone who can build "more than one" advanced battery that is 30 percent cheaper to make than current examples, and prove the technology is ready "for full commercial development of plug-in hybrid and fully electric automobiles." The contest would be open to companies worldwide, though it would require Congressional approval before going into effect. In the meantime McCain plans to visit GM's Lordstown Assembly Plant in Ohio this Friday, while Obama will meet with Ford CEO Alan Mulally today and take part in a discussion on American competitiveness with GM's Rick Wagoner tomorrow.
With the average per gallon price of regular at $4.07 today, Americans are more interested in saving gas than ever, but still balk at ponying up extra cash for new technologies. And whether aid comes via federal assistance, cash prizes, or the free market, clearly automakers will need help as they struggle to create affordable advanced powertrain vehicles that improve not just carbon footprints, but their bottom lines as well.
Source: The Detroit News