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

Obama and McCain presented plans to help jump-start the move toward getting enough plug-ins on the market to reduce fuel consumption and position the country closer to energy independence. A cornerstone of Obama’s plan to put a million plug-ins on the road by 2015. He also says he would convert the entire White House fleet to plug-ins within a year of his taking office “as security permits,” and commit the federal government to making half of its new vehicle purchases battery cars and plug-ins by 2012.

McCain has talked of a $300 million challenge to develop batteries with “the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.” The winning battery would need to deliver 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 not insignificant, 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 Automobile Manufacturers, says the McCain initiative is helpful, but these manufacturers are already spending billions of dollars bringing plug-in hybrids and other advanced technologies to the market. Territo is also cautious about the prospects 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 acting assistant 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 the government needs to set firm goals in terms of carbon reduction, and then let the private sector come up with a solution.