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Candidates’ Clean Car Plans Have Supporters and Detractors

October 29, 2008

Presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCainare enthusiastic proponents and backers ofthe plug-in hybrid vehicle, according to Jim Motavalli’s blog on the New YorkTimes Web site.

Obama and McCain presented plans to help jump-start the movetoward getting enough plug-ins on the market to reduce fuel consumption andposition the country closer to energy independence. A cornerstone of Obama’splan to put a million plug-ins on the road by 2015. He also says he wouldconvert the entire White House fleet to plug-ins within a year of his takingoffice “as security permits,” and commit the federal government to making halfof its new vehicle purchases battery cars and plug-ins by 2012.

McCain has talked of a $300 million challenge to developbatteries with “the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commerciallyavailable plug-in hybrids or electric cars.” The winning battery would need todeliver full performance, but cost just 30 percent of current technology.

McCain’s $300 million “is small change in this business,”said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan. “It’s notinsignificant, but it’s the cost of a paint shop in an auto factory,” he says.The key technology is lithium-ion batteries, he added.

Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of AutomobileManufacturers, says the McCain initiative is helpful, but these manufacturersare already spending billions of dollars bringing plug-in hybrids and otheradvanced technologies to the market. Territo is also cautious about theprospects for the Obama plan, saying a target of one million plug-ins in the U.S.by 2015—considering there are none now—could be somewhat optimistic.

However, Joseph Romm, an author who served as actingassistant secretary of energy for efficiency and renewable energy in the Clinton administration,says one million vehicles by 2015 is a reasonable goal.

Some environmentalists don’t like either plan. John DeCicco,an automotive strategist for the Environmental Defense Fund, says thegovernment needs to set firm goals in terms of carbon reduction, and then letthe private sector come up with a solution.

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