Senator John McCain at 71 may become the oldest US President if elected, but the Republican nominee for the American top job sought to present himself as forward thinking by proposing a $300-million prize to develops a next-generation car battery that weans the country off oil.
Speaking at a town hall meeting in Fresno, in rural central California, the Republican presidential hopeful brought a new angle towards solving the current energy crisis that has left American consumers fuming as they grapple with gasoline above four dollars a gallon.
McCain called for improving the enforcement of fuel economy standards, building more cars that could run on alternative fuels, dropping the tariff on imports of sugar-based ethanol from Brazil and offering big tax credits for nonpolluting cars.
He noted that Brazil has largely weaned itself from oil imports by converting most new cars to flex-fuel capacities that use alcohol-based fuels. Brazil went from 5 per cent to 70 per cent of flex-fuel new cars in three years, he asserted.
"Whether it takes a meeting with automakers during my first month in office, or my signature on an act of Congress, we will meet the goal of a swift conversion of American vehicles away from oil,'' McCain said.
''I further propose we inspire the ingenuity and resolve of the American people,'' he added, ''by offering a $300 million prize for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.''
He said the winner should deliver power at 30 per cent of current costs. ''That's one dollar, one dollar, for every man, woman and child in the US - a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency.''
And McCain emphasized one of his differences with Democratic rival Barack Obama, without mentioning him by name, by restating his opposition to subsidies for corn-based ethanol, which the latter supports.
''As taxpayers, we foot the bill for the enormous subsidies paid to corn producers,'' he said. ''And as consumers, we pay extra at the pump because of government barriers to cheaper products from abroad.''
McCain, who spoke against corn-based ethanol when he ran for president in 2000, said this time around that he became a supporter of it when oil grew too expensive, but he has said he still opposes subsidies for ethanol.
He has taken steps to distance himself from unpopular President George W Bush, and also seemed to take a dim view of efforts by Bush and others to persuade OPEC nations to lower the price of crude.
"Some in Washington seem to think that we can still persuade OPEC to lower prices - as if reason or cajolery had never been tried before. Others have even suggested suing OPEC - as if we can litigate our way to energy security," he said.