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President-Elect Obama on Plug-In Cars

With the election of Senator Barack Obama on November 4, advocates of plug-in cars, and the auto industry, will soon have a strong ally in the White House.

We can build on recent accomplishments: on October 3, Congress enacted and the President has signed into law a measure that includes up to $7,500 in tax incentives for passenger plug-in cars (more for larger vehicles). See $1Billion Plug-In Incentives Will Speed Auto Industry's Transformation.

In 2009, we start with two key objectives:

  • to extend incentives beyond the 250,000 vehicle limit (and the $1B fund)
  • to extend the incentives to include safe, validated conversions of hybrids and of internal combustion engine vehicles.

Senator Obama at Googleplex, November 2007

Senator Barack Obama talks to's Larry Brilliant about their PHEV program, at the Googleplex, Mountain View, CA, November 2007.

"When it becomes possible in the coming years, we should make sure that every government car is a plug-in hybrid."
-- Senator Obama, 28 February 2006.

On January 20, 2009, with Senator Barack Obama elected as President, plug-in hybrids will have an advocate in the White House -- and a staff that understands their benefits for economics, energy security and the environment. We expect they will make it a priority to accelerate PHEVs' "commercialization." (That fancy business word means mass production and retail sales in large volumes.)

We created this page:

  • to help voters understand the President-elect's positions;
  • to communicate our views to the candidates' policy advisors; and most of all
  • to amplify the message to carmakers that they will get support if they leap ahead to electrify vehicles.

Federal policies will support them and their customers. Remember the federal hybrid tax credit? It was enacted to help individuals with the higher initial costs of cars that provide a broad benefit to society. Recall that 40MPG hybrids got a $3,400 federal tax credit. For vehicles that improve MPG by an additional factor of two or more, it's reasonable to expect even greater incentives.

Senator Obama's most recent discussion of plug-ins: As part of an interview Oct 30, 2008 with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Sen. Obama demonstrated his awareness of opportunities and benefits of the Smart Grid, PHEVs and Vehicle-To-Grid. You'll find it 8 minutes into a 12-minute video streaming at . You can't fast-forward the video stream; here's the transcript:

One of the most important infrastructure projects that we need is a whole new electricity grid. Because if we're going to be serious about renewable energy, I want to be able to get wind power from North Dakota to population centers like Chicago. And we're going to have to have a smart grid if we want to use plug-in hybrids. Then we want to be able to have ordinary consumers sell back the electricity that's generated from those car batteries, back into the grid. That can create five million new jobs -- just in new energy.

Where Senator Obama Stands: He has seen PHEVs and gotten direct explanations. He has endorsed PHEVs in his speeches. Including EVs, that applies to plug-in cars in general.

Here's a quick run-down followed by details and background and links to reports on his recent statements. And finally a yardstick by which to judge the proposals: the plan proposed in "Freedom from Oil."

Barack Obama's Clean Energy Fund Supports:

  • $7,000 consumer tax credit for purchase of new plug-in cars
  • Some level of tax credits for conversions of cars
  • $4 billion in loans and tax credits to carmakers for factory retooling
  • White House fleet all-plug-in within a year (as security permits)
  • 50% of cars purchased for the federal fleet will be plug-in by 2012
  • 1 million plug-in cars on our roads by 2015
  • Raise fleet fuel economy 4%/year

For the 2008 Campaign Race on PHEV Policies by the Candidates, see CalCars-News postings:
06/23/08: Race for Plug-In Cars Shifts to Presidential Campaign; CalCars Responds
07/01/08: Obama/McCain/GM/Ford Maneuver for Support on PHEVs
07/14/08: Obama Ups Ante on PHEVs in Candidates' Plug-In Race
07/18/08: Media Agree: Candidates Competing on Plug-In Policies
08/03/08: Senate Gang of 10 Energy Deal Includes $7,500 Plug-In Tax Credit, 2020 85% Oil-Free Goal
08/04/08: Candidate PHEV Race: Obama's Expanded Commitment: $7,000 Incentives, Federal Fleet by 2012

Why It's the End of Business As Usual: When we speak at events, we tell the story of what happened after December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor). President Roosevelt summoned the carmakers to the White House and said, "We're not going to build any more cars and trucks in the U.S. We're going to build planes and tanks." FDR challenged the automakers to build 30,000 planes in one year. They said the goal was impossible. Then they built 120,000.

Today, we believe we're in a similar moment. The challenges are the energy security and climate change consequences of our dependence on fossil fuels, and the opportunity to revive and expand one of our key industries through a transition to electrification.

For carmakers, the end of business as usual means enormous new opportunities and challenges. Their business models are predicated on slow evolution of vehicles, not on disruptive technologies. And their pricing models don't take into account the likelihood that their two main impediments to moving faster -- higher up-front purchase costs and uncertainties involving battery performance and lifetime -- could be addressed by subsidies and by other federal support policies.

Background:: Senators, Representatives and the President all support plug-in hybrids!

Every elected official who hears that garage-based engineers turned hybrids into cars that get 100+MPG (of gasoline, plus about a penny a mile of electricity), or sees and drives in these cars, begins to ask, "why can't we have those cars now?" That's been the story since CalCars converted a Prius in Fall 2004, and since we brought two PHEVs to Washington in May 2006. And PHEVs showed up in Pres. Bush's 2006 State of the Union Address.

Support for PHEVs was notably broad, including Democrats and Republicans, and people motivated by one or more of electricity's characteristics: cheaper (economics/jobs), cleaner (environment/global warming), domestic (energy security).

From 2006-2008, the Department of Energy, the FreedomCar program and US National Labs began to add programs for plug-in cars (PHEVs and EVs), and a range of legislative proposals were developed, most notably the DRIVE Act. (See the for reports. Funding for projects and components in the $10M-$50M range began to be available. All this was way short of what was needed. Some measures were authorized but without appropriations (funding) -- some got caught in other legislative battles.

When the Presidential Campaign of 2008 began, we were encouraged because we hoped the bipartisan spirit would continue. Many of the candidates on both sides had seen PHEVs; some had driven them, and their advisors and policy teams understood that plug-in cars could be a multiple win.

2008 Republican and Democratic Party Platforms: Both include references to plug-in cars:

  • Republican Platform (pdf): We must also produce more vehicles that operate on electricity and natural gas, both to reduce demand for oil and to cut CO2 emissions. (Page 34).
  • Democratic Platform (pdf): We Democrats commit to fast-track investment of billions of dollars over the next ten years to establish a green energy sector that will create up to five million the jobs that will be created when plug-in hybrids start rolling off the assembly line in Michigan. (Page 17)

Precedent for including Conversions in the original Senate plan: The "Gang of 10" Senators who attempted to broker a deal that incuded a $7,500 tax credit for new plug-in cars, $2,500 for conversions of existing cars, $7.5B to carmakers for retooling and $7.5B for battery R&D, and a goal that 85% of vehicles be off gasoline by 2020.

The Freedom from Oil Roadmap: David Sandalow, Energy and Environment Scholar at the Brookings Institution, has served as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment & Science; Senior Director for Environmental Affairs, National Security Council; and Associate Director for the Global Environment, White House Council on Environmental Quality. He was one of the key organizers of the Google-Brookings June conference, "Plug-In Electric Vehicles 2008: What Role for Washington?" He's the author of Freedom From Oil, a book that presents a roadmap for the energy policies of the next President.

The starting point of Sandalow's Presidential Plan to End Oil Dependence is a Clean Vehicle Executive Order, priming the pump by:

  • offering to buy 30,000 PHEVs at an $8,000 premium
  • committing after their delivery that half the vehicles purchased by the federal government will be PHEVs
  • legislation to retool US auto factories and assume some auto industry health costs
  • consumer tax credits of $8,000 for the first million PHEVs and $4,000 for the second million.
  • replacing CAFE standards with Fuel Reduction and Energy Efficiency (FREEdom) standards
  • a Federal Battery Guarantee Corporation to help manufacturers provide 10-year battery warranties for the first million cars

The book ends with a Presidential speech calling for "new ways of doing business that create jobs, cut pollution and make us stronger," and "proposing a grand bargain with American automakers. If you invest in advanced technologies, we'll invest in you."

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