Obama’s Hybrid Car Attack Dog

Rahm Emanuel could emerge as the country’s most powerful advocate for fuel-efficient gas-electric vehicles.

As President Obama takes office, he will be relying on a small team of advisers to help him hit the ground running. Most observers see Obama’s White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel—a political insider often described as an attack dog—as the most aggressive member of the team. Emanuel described his intention for speed and fierce action in the first days of the Obama era: “Put points on the board. Show people you can govern. Deliver on what you said you were going to deliver on.”

While Emanuel is well known for his “take no prisoners” approach to politics and business—earning him the nickname “Rahmbo”—his strong support for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and cars running on compressed natural gas is less understood. Yet, Emanuel could emerge as the country’s most ardent, powerful and effective advocate for swift action regarding fuel-efficient gas-electric vehicles.

As a devout Jew, and the son of a Jerusalem-born pediatrician with Zionist affiliations, Emanuel may be personally motivated to accelerate American efforts to wean itself from Middle East oil. Emanuel served as a civilian volunteer assisting the Israel Defense Forces for a short time during the 1991 Gulf War.

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While representing Illinois in the US House of Representatives, Emanuel introduced the American Hybrid Tax Credit Act in 2005 to increase tax credits for consumers buying hybrid vehicles. In 2008, he sponsored legislation to mandate automakers to build 10 percent of their fleet with natural gas vehicles by 2018. Neither bill became law. As White House Chief of Staff, he is in a better position to push the agenda, especially considering growing support of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles—and the fact that Emanuel has President Obama’s ear.

The clearest vision of Emanuel’s beliefs about hybrid cars can be found in his 2006 book, “The Plan.” The book, co-authored with Bruce Reed, was republished in 2008 without revision. Here is an extended excerpt from the chapter, “Meet the Jetsons: The Hybrid Economy:”

“We will never end our addiction to oil until we overcome our addiction to old policies. We need a comprehensive, forward-thinking energy policy based on efficiency and innovation.

“We should break our oil habit and save our auto industry in the bargain by ushering in a Hybrid Economy that can cut America’s gasoline consumption in half over the next decade. Detroit is on the ropes for a host of reasons, from high health care costs to corporate bad judgment. But the biggest looming threat to its survival may be Japan’s massive lead in developing hybrid-powered engines…

“Today, we have the chance to achieve a real breakthrough: the plug-in hybrid…Hybrid engines save gasoline by switching back and forth from battery to gasoline power. Plug-in hybrids have the potential to store up enough battery power to run an engine for twenty miles without using a drop of gasoline. With a plug-in hybrid, commuters can drive back and forth to work, recharge their cars overnight, and go a month or more without a trip to the gas station.

“We should put the tax code in line with the hybrid revolution. Instead of providing tax breaks for Hummers, as [the Bush Administration] did, we should offer a temporary $7,000 tax credit for purchasing hybrids and other ‘lean burn’ powered vehicles assembled in America.”

In “The Plan,” Emanuel also expresses his belief that government-sponsored research into low-emission engines would create millions of new high-wage jobs.


  • Anonymous

    It wouldn’t have been all that difficult, as a democrat in 2005, or 2001 for that matter, to bring about the kind of government support for HEVs, PHEVs, and eventually pure EVs that everyone seems convinced is “finally” coming. All Rahm had to do was to stop opposing the very same provisions in the Bush energy policy, and convince just a handful of his party to do the same.

    While it’s true that this policy would have passed if it had been supported by all of the majority Republicans in congress at the time, it is also the case that it would not have been possible to block it without opposition from just about 100% of the democrats.

  • AP

    “In 2008, he sponsored legislation to mandate automakers to build 10 percent of their fleet with natural gas vehicles by 2018.”

    I hope he is willing to change his tactics. Specifying the technology is the wrong strategy. To bring out the most cost-effective solution, you need to financially discourage fuel-inefficiency by consumers and let the automakers figure out what meets the resulting consumer demand. At that point, they won’t stop at any arbitrary “standards,” either; they’ll wring every last bit of mileage out of every gallon of gasoline.

    If natural gas then becomes the solution, great. If not, it wasn’t viable anyway.

  • TD

    Umm. Wasn’t it Pete Dominici’s energy bill in 2005 which gave us the tax breaks for Hummers and gave the oil and gas industry billions in tax breaks. The same bill did very little for alternative energies or for hybrid research. As I recall, Dominici and the Republican majority did not really ask Democrats for their opinions on the bill or any other bill for that matter.

    It took $4 a gallon gas and a Democratic Congress to finally get better mileage standards on the table and even with that the Republicans in the last Congress filibustered a record number of times and Bush issued his first vetoes. To think the Republicans would move the ball forward for alternative energy and hybrids is belied by their past actions.

  • Anonymous

    What tax breaks for Hummers? The 2005 bill was Bush’s energy policy from 2001, repeatedly watered down to the point that it could get enough support to pass congress. As I said, some of the opposition came from republicans, but ALL democrats also opposed it.

    “It took $4 a gallon gas and a Democratic Congress to finally get better mileage standards on the table”

    And why was that? Prior to the democrats taking over congress, Bush repeatedly requested better mileage standards, and was repeatedly denied — again by some republicans and ALL democrats. This strongly suggests, as does this article about Rahm’s apparent transformation on alternative transportation options, that the dems opposition was not based on principle, but rather on preventing their opponents from getting the political credit for anything.

    “To think the Republicans would move the ball forward for alternative energy and hybrids is belied by their past actions.”

    This reflects an unfortunate, if very forgivable, ignorance of just what the republicans’ past actions in fact were. The Bush energy policy of 2001, which took an “all of the above” approach but which would have done a huge amount to “move the ball forward” on alternative energy and HEVs, did not enjoy the almost unanimous republican support that would have been required to get it past the almost unanimous opposition of democrats, as I have acknowledged. But it was supported by a majority of republicans.

    Going back to fuel economy standards – and I’m not going to look up real numbers because they’re not important to my point – prior to 2006 you had, say, 235 republicans and 200 democrats. A bill is being crafted and in deciding whether to bring it to the floor, leaders find that they have 200 republicans for, and 200 democrats as well as 35 republicans against. It can’t pass, so dies in committee.

    After the 2006 election with a new democratic majority in power – for the sake of example we’ll just reverse the numbers and say 235 D and 200 R. The same bill is still floating around in committee, and this time it turns out that there are 235 Ds plus most Rs in favor. Give or take a few dissenters on either side. Now the bill passes easily.

    Seems to me that this situation was clearly intended to put forth the illusion — in your case, effective — that increased fuel economy standards were a democratic idea that only prevailed over the evil Republican majority and administration when the dems finally got control of congress in 2006.

    The same is true of much of Obama’s energy agenda. There is little in there that wasn’t proposed in the Bush energy policy almost eight years ago, and whose defeat could not have been sustained without the coordinated and almost unanimous opposition of some of the very same democrats who are cheering Obama for proposing the exact same policies today.

    Now the important thing is that it gets done. And if Obama can pull it off, I’m a happy camper. But to act like he’s some kind of revolutionary on alternative energy, HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs is disingenuous at best. And while criticizing Bush and republicans for pulling it off, as I have done, is valid, deriding them as having been an obstacle is simply dishonest.

  • Shines

    AP I like your brain. I hope the new administration uses the same common sense.
    As you said: To bring out the most cost-effective solution, you need to financially discourage fuel-inefficiency by consumers and let the automakers figure out what meets the resulting consumer demand. At that point, they won’t stop at any arbitrary “standards,” either; they’ll wring every last bit of mileage out of every gallon of gasoline.

  • Consummate Skeptic

    I will add a harrumph to AP’s and Shines’ comments. Since I’m an AGW skeptic, I am not a fan of Al Gore. Though I hate to say it, an Al Gore style BTU tax (he proposed one in 1993) might be a good idea. I do not have the details of his plan, but my plan would be to propose a slowly phased in BTU tax on fossil fuels. This tax would be offset by a reduction in income tax. I believe that we should be honest about what we are proposing and see if the American people want to go along with it. I am absolutely opposed to the carbon cap and trade stealth tax. I believe that not only does it hide what it is really doing from the consumer, but additional government intervention in the energy markets cannot be accomplished without favoritism.

    As for Anonymous’ comment starting with “What tax breaks for Hummers?”, this is the state of politics today. Currently, the vast majority of television media loves one party. This party gets favorable coverage, regardless of the facts.

  • Boom Boom

    While I understand the political ease of hybrid incentives and tax-credits, I think the last period of high gas prices has shown us the most effective way to increase fleet efficiency: Increase the gas tax. Then let the drivers decide how they want to use less gas (because they will use less gas…)

  • Anonymous

    “As for Anonymous’ comment starting with “What tax breaks for Hummers?”, this is the state of politics today. Currently, the vast majority of television media loves one party. This party gets favorable coverage, regardless of the facts.”

    Sad but true. But HybridCars is ostensibly an issue site, not a political site, and as such should be, if not part of the solution, at least not part of the problem.

    Regular readers of this site should know the facts, because if we’re reading here we should care enough about the issue to inform ourselves. Those who run the site should absolutely be better informed than those who rely on the CBS Evening News for their information about what goes on in the country and in the world.

    That’s not to say that I don’t think Obama shares many of our goals regarding alternative energy, HEVs, etc. But it is a fact that all corners of media have engaged to some extent in Bush bashing, often taking the form of attributing to him positions he does not hold, statements he has not made, or in the case of alternative energy, failing to take steps that he did in fact take. And to the extent that this bashing gave opposition democrats cover to block these steps while indignantly criticizing Bush for not proposing him, this bashing has delayed, by nearly a decade so far, the enactment of policy that would have improved the current energy landscape in ways about which we can only speculate.

    If Obama gets what he says he wants on energy (which I hope he largely does, for I have no stomach for behavior on the part of my party that mirrors that of the other party over the last 8 years), we will all be hailing him ten years from now for accomplishing a large portion of what could have already been accomplished today if not for the partisan behavior of both parties for the past 8 years.

  • Priusmaniac

    The important thing to know is “is he pragmatic?”, because if he is he will automatically come to the logical conclusion that plug-in hybrids are the present optimum solution to cope with greenhouse gases and in the same time limit the required battery size so that everybody can have one and afford one. It is also the only solution that can prevent from falling from a 100 % oil dependency weakness into another 100 % grid dependency weakness. Which is also a danger especially in case of blackouts due to over-consumption, snowstorms, sabotage, war or even sever solar storms. The plug-in hybrids also allow a more progressive non-shocking industrial transition from oil cars to electric cars. Although even pure EV’s will always be better off with at least a small shoebox sized security generator onboard.

  • AP

    PLEASE don’t encourage the government to favor one technology over another. I believe The Ethanol Experience” has shown that arbitrarily subsidizing one technology will make it (artificially) prosper for a while, then collapse when competing technologies have a slump in price.

    The way we are going, we are going to have a country full of failed energy sources, all built with government money. Which will it be: empty alcohol plants, rusting windmills, weathered solar panels, empty battery plants?

    First, we should make fossil fuels less attractive by increasing their price, causing us to use it more efficiently. THEN we can scale up production of the more promising alternatives. A revolution in policy isn’t as sexy as a revolution in technology, but it’s more important.

    I agree completely that “cap and trade” systems are a hidden tax that is unmanageable, and a direct tax is more effective and transparent. We can only hope for such honesty.

  • Anonymous

    “Zionist affiliations”????

    What the hell does that mean. Quite a loaded term for an article on hybrid cars.

  • crut100

    Nice post Anonymous!!! I could agree with you more!

  • Dean

    “As a devout Jew, and the son of a Jerusalem-born pediatrician with Zionist affiliations, Emanuel may be personally motivated to accelerate American efforts to wean itself from Middle East oil. Emanuel served as a civilian volunteer assisting the Israel Defense Forces for a short time during the 1991 Gulf War.”

    I can’t believe I read that. I don’t like Emanuel. I think Obama has some screwy ideas. But to say that Emanuel might be motivated by that background, rather than his base and what the Democrats have been saying for the last few years, is merely a swipe at him for his religion, and doesn’t add squat to the article.

  • kelly

    Sony commercialized the Li-Ion battery in 1992, EV cells in 1995. Australian* students started racing Li-Ion cars ten years ago. GM
    noticed the EV threatening ICE in 1998 and began sueing CARB and
    and crushing customer GM EV-1s.

    The 2008 PHEV BYD F3DM($22k) gets 60 mi/charge while the bankrupt
    GM Volt promises a 40 mi/charge ($40k) in two years. There’s a
    saying about backing a dead horse.

    * http://www.me.ntu.edu.tw/~ifplab/solar/team.htm#1999

  • sean t

    GM Volt a dead horse? Where is Bryce?

  • hamilton

    Kelly – you’re partly right: after crash-testing is done and BYD’s F3DM is street-legal (in the US, not China), this car promises to be the mass-market entry that forces traditional car companies (whichever are left standing) to produce PHEVs for the rest of us – PRONTO.

    The BYD folks at the Detroit Auto show this week shared w/ me that they’re taking advantage of early sales to Chinese government units to get real-customer feedback, so that they can iron out safety and usability issues before Chinese consumers get their hands on the vehicles in volume. With strong revenues from cell phone battery sales, and investment from the likes of Warren Buffet, BYD’s feverishly adding enough production to support the Chinese AND export markets…

    This dynamic company has a Chinese drive to succeed, a history of tech innovation, and the wind in their sales: even if it takes a little time to get safety + usability buttoned up to North American standards, BYD will gain a solid foothold among US car buyers.

    Getting back to Rahm Emanuel – “Rahmbo” has the President’s ear, political savvy, and “take-no-prisoners” attitude to drive FEDERAL policies that put more fuel efficent vehicles on the road NOW – Rahm for “Car Czar”!

    Note: full disclosure, I am a GM employee.

  • sean t

    hamilton,
    If your info is correct, other big car companies should worry now and do something. Chinese cars are not at the top in safety and usability but they did make a PHEV. Don’t forget China is the 3rd country sending a person to the orbit by themselves. Their spaceship may look ugly but . . .
    PS: You’re a GM employee? I think Bryce is.

  • Anonymous

    kelly, there is a big difference between commercializing the Li-Ion battery and making it small enough, light enough, cheap enough, and safe enough for propelling a car a reasonable distance down the road (remember Dell’s PC fires? multiply the effect by 10,000). GM never fought against electric cars being sold – they only fought against them being MANDATED – quite a difference. When someone tells you to do something that is really, really stupid, you typically resist. (By the way, where was Toyota’s mandated EV?).

    The eV1 was all-aluminum, extremely light, had a 0.19 drag coefficient (vs. the Prius’ 0.26), and still had poor range due to the battery limitations – and was extremely expensive to build because of its technology. The morons who put the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” were about as thorough and unbiased as Michael Moore (though possibly thinner). Don’t listen to idiots; look at facts.

  • hamilton

    Kelly, you’re right about Chinese cars being on a fast trajectory. Shenzhen was a damp little satellite of Guangzhou (Canton) in 1989, when I first set foot in China. By 2000, Shenzhen was a sparkling dynamo – and the number one market for Shanghai GM Buicks. Fast-forward to 2009: Shenzhen is headquarters for BYD, the launch pad for a company bent on becoming a global player in the PHEV market. Breath-taking.

    Take that as a metaphor for the whole country & it’s auto industry – as customer expectations rise quickly, the Chinese auto industry is compressing into 25 years what took Europe and North America the better part of 100 years to do. Even faster than Japan or Korea. Quality, durability, and safety will get there, no doubt about it.

  • sean t

    yeah, China is now manufacturer fot the world. Look around and it’s hard to see something not made-in-china. Car manufacturing is not rocket science. Well even rocket science, they’ve managed to do it. They just need to improve the quality and safety and everyone should worry. They may produce cars to world standard for export and cars to a lower standard for domestic market. Cars, as well as any products, only have to meet the standard where they are sold.

  • AP

    sean t, you’re right that auto manufacturing isn’t rocket science: it’s harder. Auto manufacturers have to deal with a changing fuel market (supply and prices), inconsistent and ineffective government regulations, stringent safety requirements, and consumer demands that are often formed by the latest “in thing” they saw on TV (whether or not they make any sense financially or environmentally – they’re like baby raccoons playing with shiny objects).

    Manufacturers do all this while making cars affordable.

    If you’re a domestic US manufacturer, you also get to compete with countries with much lower labor rates and/or manipulated currencies to boost their product content (ask Toyota what happens to their profits when Japan can’t keep the yen down).

    It’s easy to slap “a car” together, but to make a relevant car in the US market is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. We just take it for granted. We should be promoting this and heralding the people in our country that do this, rather than politicians and lawyers who just write regulations and produce the complex puzzle that producing a car is.

    As far as Chinese manufacturing, the Chinese manufacturer Chery copied a GM car so closely the even Chinese courts found in GM’s favor (a Chinese industry first) for design infringement. To add insult to injury, it was also found out that they used THE GM CAR THEY COPIED in their crash tests to certify it. When their own car was tested by the government, it basically fell apart.

    Is an industry like this, in the same country that has brought boot-legging to a new level, the one we want to promote?

  • Consummate Skeptic

    To AP:
    You appear to be a highly knowledgeable auto enthusiast, yet you spar with the uninformed without getting too frustrated. The uninformed stake out what they consider to be the moral high ground armed with only a few facts or ideas. Some here don’t seem to care that the issues on which they comment are complex and do not easily resolve themselves into right and wrong. They don’t want to hear about trade-offs. They want the problem “solved” and they want someone to blame, not necessarily in that order.

    I don’t like what I am seeing from the Obama administration so far regarding energy. It looks like a lot of political ideology masquerading as a viable solution.

  • AP

    Consummate skeptic, thanks. It is a very complex problem with a long history, and I don’t want us to repeat the regulatory mistakes we’ve made before. We really need to work together and not have favorites (domestic vs. foreign, hybrid vs. diesel, etc.). We need to do what works.

    I’m hoping that President Obama is taking all this rhetoric from California, looking at its consequences, and coming up with something he can sell as a better idea. Something like, “Since energy security is a national problem, it needs to be solved at a national level, and we are willing to do that. CA has been a leader in this area, but now it’s time for us to work it into our national strategy. That’s why I’m phasing in a revenue-neutral gasoline tax, that collects revenue from each gallon of gasoline sold, but returns it to all who file for income tax, as a tax credit. It will encourage the right products, and the right actions, without removing money from our economy, or from those who need it most.”

    With regards to people who can’t see the big picture, I used to think like that too. It takes years of seeing the unintended consequences of legislation and PR in order to predict what will work and what will not. A good working knowledge of physics helps, too.

  • Obama dog

    The Portuguese Water Dog are wonderful pets, their curly hairs are so handsome and they are good for allergic people. A good choice for the Obama family, now some questions remain: male or female, how will they call it?

  • Michigan Dog Bite Lawyer

    I agree with the last comment that Portuguese water dogs are wonderful pets. They have a very low rate of violence compared to some other more popular breeds.

  • tesla generator blueprints

    I could not refrain from commenting. Well written!