McCain proposes $300 million car battery contest

Presidential candidate McCain criticizes existing ethanol policies, while promising to push automakers to build energy-efficient and flex-fuel vehicles.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
2 min read

Presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain on Monday proposed a $300 million prize to develop a car battery that will "leapfrog" today's plug-in hybrids.

In an energy policy speech at Fresno State University in California, McCain also called for an overhaul to existing policies that favor domestic ethanol production--one of the biggest differences he has with his expected opponent, Senator Barack Obama.

John McCain
Senator and presidential hopeful John McCain McCain's Senate site

McCain said that, if elected, his administration would issue a Clean Car Challenge that would give give a $5,000 tax credit to people who purchase "zero-emissions cars."

There would be a sliding scale so that vehicles, regardless of type, with lower carbon dioxide emissions will have larger tax credits.

His $300 million car battery prize is meant to spur creativity among automakers to make energy-efficient products.

"This is one dollar for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.--a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency--and should deliver a power source at 30 percent of the current costs," he said.

Diverging ethanol plans
In the same speech, McCain repeated his opposition to policies that encourage corn-ethanol and said the U.S. should eliminate a tariff on ethanol from Brazil because it hinders free trade.

He said he would provide incentives to automakers to manufacture flex-fuel vehicles that can run on ethanol or gasoline. He said Brazil, which gets about half of its auto fuel from sugar cane ethanol, has shown that a country can change its fuel mix in just a few years.

"Instead of playing favorites, our government should level the playing field for all alcohol fuels that break the monopoly of gasoline, lowering both gasoline prices and carbon emissions. And this can be done with a simple federal standard to hasten the conversion of all new vehicles in America to flex-fuel technology--allowing drivers to use alcohol fuels instead of gas in their cars," he said.

By contrast, Senator Obama is in favor of continued supportive ethanol policies.

The New York Times on Monday detailed the Illinois senator's close ties to ethanol, including maintaining Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader who now serves on the boards of three ethanol companies, as an adviser.

Domestically producing ethanol "ultimately helps our national security, because right now we're sending billions of dollars to some of the most hostile nations on earth," the Times quoted Obama saying during a campaign stop last August.