Big news! U.S. presidential candidates Barak Obama and John McCain are talking about EVs. Finally, American politicians, corporate executives and grassroots advocates all seem to agree that powering cars from clean, affordable and domestic electricity makes sense. However, politicians have talked about electric vehicles before and in the past, the talk did not translate into government support for practical technologies. Will things be different this time? Are the candidates finally committed to electric vehicles?
In a speech at a gas station in Indianapolis, Indiana, Barak Obama told listeners that he was the only candidate for president to propose a $125 billion plan to aid development of existing clean energies such as solar, wind and biodiesel over a ten year period. That's $12.5 billion per year which is several billion more than GM spends in product development every year. In short, that's a hefty chunk of "change".
Also, Obama told a group of Democrats and governors in Chicago that he would invest that same $150 billion over the next 10 years to create green jobs, particularly in the automotive industry and to improve the electricity grid so that people can drive plug-in hybrid vehicles. CalCars, the company that pioneered the plug-in Prius design, responded by saying "Senator Obama has a history of support for PHEVs that goes back to 2005, including his Obama-Insley "Halth Care for Hybrids" bill introduced in 2006... Today's grid is more that adequate to begin plugging in tens of millions of cars."
Senator Obama has met with plug-in vehicle advocates as well. He met with Dr. Larry Brilliant (above left) to discuss Google's plug-in hybrid program. He also met with GM CEO Rick Wagoner in a forum at Carnegie Mellon University. The Illinois senator asked Wagoner what the next president could do to help the nation's ailing automotive industry. Wagoner's response was that the auto industry needed incentives to aid in the development of battery technology for electric vehicles. Considering GM's questionable history regarding EV development, this response is remarkable. Hopefully Senator Obama was listening.
Senator McCain has also made several statements regarding electric cars.
One aspect of his "Clean Car Challenge" proposes a $300 million X-Prize-style reward to any researcher who can develop a battery that exceeds today's batteries by at least 30%. However, CalCars commented on this battery prize saying, "We hope the call for improved batteries doesn't obscure the reality that today's batteries are good enough for Version 1.0 PHEVs." The suggestion is that McCain's challenge could hold up the type of mass production of EVs needed to, in McCain's words, "break the back of oil dependency." Also, $300 million is a tiny sum compared to the annual amount spent on new product development by large car manufacturers.
Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of McCain's battery prize, the Clean Car Challenge would also provide a $5,000 incentive to U.S. auto manufacturers for every zero-emission-vehicle sold. This would give car makers a great opportunity to innovate and accelerate the development of EV manufacturing facilities.
Much of the credit for McCain's strong stance on EV incentives for manufacturers may be due to President Clinton's former CIA director, James Woolsey. Woolsey (wearing the black jacket in the image to the left) is McCain's chief energy advisor and (are you ready for this?) he owns one of A123's early plug-in Prius conversions. As the former head of the CIA it should come as no surprise that he's not into EVs for their green appeal. Rather, he sees cars like his as part of the solution to the war on terror. "We're paying for both sides in this war, and that's not a good long-term strategy," says Woolsey. "I have a bumper sticker on the back of my Prius that reads, 'Bin Laden hates this car.'" In other words, the McCain campaign has a ringer.
The candidates both look relatively strong in this comparison. Senator Obama has pledged a substantial sum for the development of clean energy sources in general and has a history of supporting plug-in electric vehicles. Senator McCain has laid out a plan to support EV development specifically and has hired the help of an experienced pro-EV expert as his primary energy adviser. Of course, no one has any way of knowing which of these candidates is more likely to keep his promises when the campaign is over. Nor can a person say for certain which of these candidates is more likely to succeed in working with Congress on this type of legislation. In any event, this much is certain: the candidates are taking EVs more seriously in this campaign than in any previous and that's a good thing for EV proponents no matter what.
*Any organization or entity that accepts contributions, makes expenditures, or incurs debts in excess of $750 to advocate for or against a candidate or for or against the passage of a ballot issue is defined as a PAC.
Kramer, Felix. "Race for Plug-In Cars Shifts to Presidential Campaign; CalCars Responds." Current EVents July 2008: 40-7
Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. Official State of Iowa Web Site 29 July 2008 <http://www.iowa.gov>
GM CEO Rick Wagoner Tells Obama About the Chevy Volt and Gives Financial Assurances. GM-Volt.com. 26 June 2008 <http://gm-volt.com>
Presidential Candidates in Race on PHEV Policies. CalCars.org. 29 July 2008 <http://www.calcars.org>
Oliver, Ben. Oil Warrior: Former CIA chief James Woolsey says if you want to beat Bin Laden. Motor Trend. 29 July 2008 <http://www.motortrend.com>