President Barack Obama is briefed about an electric car by Henning Lohse-Busch at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago Friday. (Jewel Samad / Getty Images)
Washington — President Barack Obama called on Congress to approve $2 billion in funding for advanced vehicle technology over the next decade, the latest in a series of proposals to boost research for cars and trucks.
Obama made the proposal Friday at an appearance at the Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, where federally funded research helped develop lithium-ion batteries for electric cars.
Standing in front of a plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt and Ford C-Max, along with a Honda Civic that runs on compressed natural gas, Obama said funding research for an Energy Security Trust would help move the nation off oil and "helps us free our families and our businesses from painful spikes in gas once and for all."
He called on Congress to set aside $2 billion for research into electric vehicles, batteries, compressed natural gas and biofuels, by tapping royalty funds raised from oil and natural gas development in federal waters along U.S. coasts.
Obama said the project could create more auto jobs. He pointed to progress by two U.S. automakers: "Last year, General Motors sold more hybrid vehicles than ever before.Ford is selling some of the most fuel-efficient cars so quickly that dealers are having a tough time keeping up with the demand," Obama said.
"We're making progress, but the only way to really break this cycle of spiking gas prices, the only way to break that cycle for good is to shift our cars entirely — our cars and trucks — off oil."
Obama also criticized Republicans for not agreeing to a compromise to avoid across-the-board spending cuts that could set back research at Argonne.
Automakers face $200 billion in costs to meet dramatically higher fuel efficiency standards — 54.5 mpg by 2025 — and more federal research funds could make it easier to hit the targets.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group representing Detroit's Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and others, said it is up to consumers to buy more efficient models.
"The government can help by encouraging greater availability of diverse fuels from energy providers, by supporting improvements to the transportation and energy infrastructure, and by adopting consistent, long-term policies, incentives and regulations," said spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist.
Obama won $2.4 billion in funding in the $787 billion stimulus to award cash grants to battery companies and automakers to help make electric vehicles more prevalent.
But since then, Republicans in Congress haven't approved his ideas to boost electric vehicles and research.
Democrats praised the proposal.
"By making investments in 21st-century clean auto technologies, we'll help break our dependence on foreign fossil fuels and create thousands of good-paying, middle-class American jobs," said Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, who co-chairs the House Auto Caucus.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized the plan. "For this proposal to even be plausible, oil and gas leasing on federal land would need to increase dramatically," said Brendan Buck. "Unfortunately, this administration has consistently slowed, delayed, and blocked American energy production."
Last year, Obama called on Congress to approve $650 million in battery and vehicle research. Congress approved only $330 million, according to the Energy Department's website.
The president has made boosting the fuel efficiency of the nation's cars and trucks a cornerstone of his environmental agenda.
He has touted it as the only long-term solution to wean the nation from imported oil. As a candidate in 2008, he called for boosting the fuel efficiency of the nation's cars and trucks to 50 miles per gallon by 2027.
In fact, Obama won agreement from major automakers to go much faster.
The administration finalized rules last year that will hike the fleetwide fuel efficiency of the nation's cars and trucks to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
Obama has shifted his efforts from electric vehicles and now embraces subsidies for a broader range of advanced vehicles.
The new fuel rules will raise the price of a truck $2,059 on average; the price of a car will go up $1,726, according to the Obama administration. Including the 2012-16 rules, the costs for a new light-duty truck will rise nearly $3,000.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last year the 2017-25 requirements will cost the industry between $144 billion and $150 billion. Including the $52 billion for the 2012-16 rules, which the Obama administration finalized in 2010, the total costs are around $200 billion.
Including all the increases from 2012-25, Americans are expected to save $1.7 trillion in fuel costs and reduce U.S. dependence on oil by more than 2 million barrels per day in 2025.