President Obama today used a visit to a Daimler plant in North Carolina that makes trucks that run on natural gas as a platform to promote his energy agenda, and in the process continued to push the green-vehicle envelope.

Among other things, the president touted a $1 billion “Race for the Top”-type challenge for alternative vehicle infrastructure development in up to 15 cities and a boost in the electric vehicle (EV) tax credit from $7,500 to $10,000. These are ideas the president has talked about before, but they were offered with new twists this time around—an enthusiasm for including natural gas vehicles in the programs.

obama alternative vehicles

image via the White House

For instance, the credit for electric vehicles, while increasing in value, would also cover “a broader range of advanced vehicle technologies,” according to a White House fact sheet. The White House didn’t specify what it meant by that, but news reports said the incentive would be available for natural-gas powered vehicles under the proposal. And in his speech at the Daimler factory, the president mentioned cars that run on “electricity or biofuels or natural gas” and then said to the audience, “we’ll offer tax breaks to families that buy these cars.”

The president has backed initiatives to encourage natural gas vehicles before, pushing the federal government to include such vehicles in its fleet purchases and backing development of natural-gas powered trucks. But blurring the distinction between natural-gas cars and electric cars is a new step, taken as EVs appear to be struggling to take hold in the U.S.

The expansion of the tax credit might be appealing to consumers, inspiring more people to trade in their gas guzzler for a natural gas sipper. And it could give the proposal bipartisan appeal. Some environmentalists, however, might be squeamish about so strongly embracing a fuel source that, while considerably cleaner than gasoline, nonetheless spews greenhouse gases and also comes with issues associated with how it is removed from the ground.

(How clean are natural-gas-burning cars? According to the state of California, “Typical CNG vehicles can reduce smog-forming emissions of carbon monoxide (CO) by 70 percent, non-methane organic gas (NMOG) by 87 percent and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 87 percent. Also, CNG vehicles typically have 20 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline powered cars.”)

The president also proposed making the vehicle tax credit available at the point of sale by making it transferable to the dealer or financier, giving consumers a rebate, essentially. As it is now, consumers don’t see the money until after they file their taxes.

As with the vehicle tax credit proposal, the president’s $1 billion National Community Deployment Challenge would shift away from a pure emphasis on electric vehicles; it “would be ‘fuel neutral,’ allowing communities to determine if electrification, natural gas or other alternative fuels would be the best fit,” the White House said. The program would also support the development of up to five regional liquefied natural gas (LNG) “corridors” where “alternative fuel trucks can transport goods without using a drop of oil,” the White House said.

The natural gas theme continued as the president pushed for a new tax incentive for commercial trucks that would provide a credit for 50 percent of the incremental cost of a dedicated alternative-fuel truck, including trucks powered by natural gas or electricity, for a five-year period.

The White House also said the president was launching something called “EV Everywhere.” Whether this included new funding or not wasn’t clear, but the fact sheet called it a program to “invest in breakthrough R&D for advanced batteries, electric drivetrain technologies, lightweight vehicle structures, and fast charging technology.”