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Race for Plug-In Cars Shifts to Presidential Campaign; CalCars Responds
Jun 23, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Big news today: we start with some background about the candidates and plug-in cars, then we go to what each candidate has said in the past few days, with our comments on each.


"We're thrilled that Presidential candidates are talking about plug-in hybrids. It shows we've reached a tipping point, where our elected leaders, CEOs and grass-roots advocates and automakers all agree it makes sense to power cars with cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity. Let's make sure the focus remains on reducing fossil fuel use through near-term mass production -- not on long-term R&D that makes the perfect the enemy of the good and could be an excuse to postpone commercialization."


Some weeks ago, we put up a bare-bones page­phev-presidents.html showing them with PHEVs, as part of our preparation for the Google-Brookings Institution conference. At that conference we proposed a strategy to have the candidates agree that plug-in cars wouldn't be a campaign issue this fall because whichever of them was elected, automakers should know that next year, they could expect major federal support for PHEVs. (The candidates have actually issued a joint statement to this effect on Darfur­page/­content/­Candidates_Statement/­ that we saw as precedent, and they have both said that the incoming President would not challenge California's pioneering emissions regulations that have been so strongly blocked by the current administration.)

It's now clear that candidates, advocates and carmakers are all focusing on January 20, 2009. Brookings' David Sandalow's book, "Freedom From Oil" (which you can order via­books.html ) remains the best roadmap, providing background, a full program, talking points and a Presidential Address on the subject. Taking their cues from the subject of the conference, "Federal Policy on Plug-In Cars," in their presentations both Ford and GM emphasized the benefit of federal support. And the Energy Dept. took the occasion to announce awards of small development contracts that would for the first time involve Ford, GM and Chrysler (working with GE) on PHEV projects -- even though the total amount of awards is only $30M.

Now it looks like our game plan has been superceded by events in both campaigns. Here are the latest developments plus our responses.

Today John McCain proposed a "Clean Car Challenge" including $5,000 incentives for zero-emission vehicles and a $300M prize for a battery that's 30% better than we have today. Among the hundreds of news stories, this from the AP report­article/­ALeqM5jfqkglGaJzMm-z8hIuFPKpCqLkwwD91FQ6L81

The presumed Republican nominee is proposing a $300 million government prize to whoever can develop an automobile battery that far surpasses existing technology. The bounty would equate to $1 for every man, woman and child in the country, "a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency," McCain said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday at Fresno State University in California. McCain said such a device should deliver power at 30 percent of current costs and have "the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars." The Arizona senator is also proposing stiffer fines for automakers who skirt existing fuel-efficiency standards, as well as incentives to increase use of domestic and foreign alcohol-based fuels such as ethanol. In addition, a so-called Clean Car Challenge would provide U.S. automakers with a $5,000 tax credit for every zero-carbon emissions car they develop and sell.

We can perhaps thank in part long-time PHEV advocate James Woolsey, former CIA director and the coiner of the catchy description of the PHEV campaign as the "coalition between the tree-huggers, the do-gooders, the sod-busters, the cheap hawks, and the evangelicals, utility shareholders, mom and pop drivers, and Willie Nelson." The Lonodon Daily Telegraph, in reporting­news/­newstopics/­uselection2008/­johnmccain/­2169365/­
that he is McCain's key energy advisor says, "He is one of a new generation of so-called "Greenocons", campaigners who are making the case for a green American foreign and energy policy not just to save the planet, but to keep America safe too."


"We're glad that plug-in cars are becoming a central focus for Senator McCain. The tax credit idea sends the message to carmakers that Washington understands that federal support in electrifying transportation is a great investment and it's the end of business as usual. That means carmakers' business models are out the window and they have great opportunities to take a leap into innovation. We also hope Washington will see the near-term benefit of incentives for converting many of today's internal combustion engine cars.

"As for the battery prize, we've all known people who postponed buying a computer for years because the next version would be better -- but meanwhile they lost the use of that invaluable tool. The clock is ticking on energy security and global warming and the world can't wait to get started. Prizes do a great job catching people's attention and inspiring innovation, but we hope the call for improved batteries doesn't obscure the reality that today's batteries are good enough for Version 1.0 PHEVs. General Motors in particular is showing we don't have to wait for new technology. Cheaper and lighter batteries will be the icing on the cake."

Meanwhile, over the weekend, Senator Obama told a group of Democratic governors in Chicago, reports AP­article/­ALeqM5jNlJOuGuTs5qgEuIws8f56V48hyAD91DVH680, that "he would invest $150 billion over the next 10 years to create green jobs, particularly in the automotive industry and to improve the electricity grid so people can drive plug-in hybrid vehicles."


"Senator Obama has a history of support for PHEVs that goes back to his 2005, including the Obama-Insley "Health Care for Hybrids" bill introduced in 2006. We know that he has been hearing from many sources that it's time to talk about the benefits of plug-in cars and what can be done to promote and incentivize them, and we look forward to hearing more.

"As for the power grid, there are many reasons to modernize and improve it, but plug-in cars don't have to wait for that. Reports from federal laboratories and speeches by utility CEOs confirm that we today's power grid is more than adequate to begin plugging in tens of millions of cars, especially at night when we have more power than we can use."

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