If he's elected, Republican presidential candidate John McCain said yesterday, he would offer a $300 million prize to some enterprising person or group who can come up with a cheap battery-powered car.
Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Mr. McCain is Johnny-come-lately to the cause of energy conservation and independence.
It's a debate that could have political consequences in auto manufacturing states such as Ohio and Michigan that are dependent on making and selling gas-consuming cars and trucks.
Speaking in Fresno, Calif., Mr. McCain sought to keep his momentum on the energy subject a week after announcing his support of offshore oil drilling.
Mr. McCain, a senator from Arizona, said Brazil has rapidly ramped up the use of flex-fuel cars that use alcohol-based fuels from 5 percent of new cars to 70 percent over three years.
"Whether it takes a meeting with automakers during my first month in office, or my signature on an act of Congress, we will meet the goal of a swift conversion of American vehicles away from oil," Mr. McCain said at a town hall meeting in Fresno and in a national news release.
Mr. McCain proposed two cash incentives aimed at spurring carmakers to develop affordable alternatives to the traditional gasoline-powered engine.
Under the "Clean Car Challenge," he would give a $5,000 tax credit to each customer who buys a zero-emissions car, with lower tax credits for higher carbon emissions.
A $300 million prize would be available for development of a battery package that "has the size, capacity, cost, and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars," he said.
That battery should deliver a power source at 30 percent of the current costs, Mr. McCain said.
The prize amount is based on one dollar for every man, woman, and child in America.
Rich Martinko, director of the University of Toledo Transportation Center, said the prize would add to the incentive for existing businesses to develop a battery-powered car, and for entities such as UT to partner with companies by offering research expertise.
"I don't think $300 million is going to spur someone who's not interested in electric cars to now all of a sudden do it," Mr. Martinko said.
"It might provide some seed money. It will spur some interest," he said.
Dana Corp., which has a research center in Maumee, is working on fuel cells. Officials said they could envision some participation in developing electric-car technology.
"The secret to the commercialization of any of these things is going to be mass manufacturing, and that's what we bring to the table," said Dana spokesman Jeff Cole.
"We'd certainly be willing to put our expertise in mass manufacturing to work if it would help," he said.
Representatives of Mr. Obama, a senator from Illinois and the presumed Democratic nominee, didn't respond directly to the Clean Car Challenge, but said Mr. McCain's recent proposals, such as drilling for oil offshore, smack more of gimmickry than serious solutions for ending America's addiction to oil.
"The contrast between Sen. McCain's recent rhetorical interest in things like vehicle efficiency is fundamentally at odds with a 26-year history of voting against those very same measures," said Jason Grumet, senior energy adviser to Mr. Obama.
He said Mr. Obama stepped up in July, 2006, when other members of Congress and even environmental groups were reluctant to demand higher fuel standards for cars and co-sponsored such a package.
Mr. Grumet said the package approved 18 months later was "virtually the exact same set of proposals."
In his Fresno speech, Mr. McCain said he opposed policies that encourage corn-based ethanol, saying taxpayers foot the bill by paying a subsidy for ethanol as mandated by Congress.
Mr. Grumet said Mr. Obama is in favor of a new generation of diversified biofuels that are not based on food crops.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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