Mt. HOLLY, NC. President Barack Obama chose a visit to Daimler Trucks North America’s (DTNA’s) Mt. Holly plant yesterday as the venue to introduce a new plan for boosting the use of alternative power vehicles.  He was greeted by workers here who are building the alternative power trucks that have figured so centrally in the administration’s energy plans for the future, including natural gas-powered vehicles, hybrids and all-electric trucks, as well as clean diesel-powered trucks.

“… At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how [many] natural gas, or flex-fuel or electric vehicles you have if there’s no place to charge them up or fill them up,” Obama told the crowd of assembled workers, local government and union officials and members of the press. “So that’s why I’m announcing today a program that will put our communities on the cutting edge of what clean energy can do. 

(Photos: See President Obama’s trip to Mt. Holly in pictures)

“To cities and towns all across the country, what we’re going to say is, if you make a commitment to buy more advanced vehicles for your community - whether they run on electricity or biofuels or natural gas - we’ll help you cut through the red tape and build fueling stations nearby,” he continued. “And we’ll offer tax breaks to families that buy these cars, companies that buy alternative fuel trucks like the ones that are made right here at Mt. Holly. So we’re going to give communities across the country more of an incentive to make the shift to more energy-efficient cars.” 

Obama was referring, in part, to his recent request to Congress to make two changes in tax law. According to Bloomberg, one would raise the tax credit to $10,000 from $7,500 for the purchase of an advanced vehicle. The credit would be applied instantly at the dealership. The second tax change would target buyers of electric and natural gas powered commercial trucks, including semi-tractor trailers. Those vehicles would qualify for a 50% tax credit for half the additional cost over a conventional truck, to help overcome the initial upfront cost.

As he walked through the plant, workers at various build stations, many of whom have careers at Mt. Holly spanning more than 25 years, shook his hand and shared their pride in the company/union partnership and the work they are doing together. Employees, in fact, played a major role in the day’s events, including introducing the president at the gathering on the factory floor. Juan Smith, a 32-year employee currently working as an engine quality assurance specialist at Mt. Holly and a member of UAW Local 5285 made the welcoming remarks.

In February, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified DTNA’s complete portfolio of model year 2013 on-highway, vocational, and medium duty vehicles as fully compliant with the new GHG14 regulations. According to the company, DTNA is the first and only commercial vehicle manufacturer to be certified as GHG14 compliant to-date.

“Mt. Holly is focused on alternative fuel trucks,” Martin Daum, president & CEO for DTNA, told journalists at an onsite press briefing, “but we have to be careful about hyping any particular solution…[We have to think in terms of applications, not models, of what kind of vehicle will work best for each situation.]”

Daum noted that natural gas is currently best suited to certain regional applications, such as school buses, while diesel remains the best choice for other applications. “The 10 mpg diesel truck we can produce today,” he said, “but the payback is not there yet [and that is our challenge going forward].

“Daimler Trucks North America has long been committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving fuel efficiency through the development of clean drive systems and alternative fuel technologies,” noted Daum. “Through strategic partnerships with the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DTNA is committed to producing clean, fuel efficient and environmentally sustainable solutions for the North American market.”

Obama echoed the call for various energy solutions in his own remarks. “If we are going to control our energy future, then we’ve got to have an all-of-the-above strategy.  We’ve got to develop every source of American energy - not just oil and gas, but wind power and solar power, nuclear power, biofuels,” he said.  “We need to invest in the technology that will help us use less oil in our cars and our trucks, in our buildings, in our factories.  That’s the only solution to the challenge. Because as we start using less, that lowers the demand, prices come down.  It’s pretty straightforward.  That’s the only solution to this challenge.”

“The Mt. Holly Manufacturing facility is a wonderful example of the truck demand that is ramping up across all DTNA facilities. In 2011 the facility more than tripled its production rate and is continuing to experience strong demand,” said Roger Nielsen, COO for DTNA. “President Barack Obama’s visit to the facilities is an honor that underscores our commitment to growing and sustaining employment in North Carolina.”