Obama talks energy, jobs in NC a day after primary

WASHINGTON (AP) ? President Barack Obama will outline incentives to promote development of more fuel-efficient cars and to make it easier for people to buy and operate next-generation vehicles during an election-year visit Wednesday to a North Carolina truck plant.

The morning after Super Tuesday voting, Obama was continuing a schedule of weekly visits to politically important states with his trip to a Daimler truck plant in Mount Holly, N.C. With the price of gasoline at its highest levels for this time of year, Obama once again was promoting policies he says will result in less foreign oil dependency over the long term.

He does so as the Republican field seeking to defeat him in November remains unsettled. Mitt Romney squeezed out a win in pivotal Ohio on Tuesday, captured five other states with ease and padded his delegate lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. But the front-runner was forced to share the Super Tuesday spotlight with a resurgent Rick Santorum.

Obama declined an opportunity to offer Romney any advice before polls closed Tuesday. “Good luck,” was all Obama said.

Like Obama, the Republican candidates have been focused on jobs and the economy.

Wednesday marks Obama’s first visit to a foreign automaker as president, but he is pushing a familiar theme. The White House said Obama would highlight the government’s fuel efficiency standards for cars and medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Obama promoted his energy agenda in Florida and New Hampshire over the past two weeks.

Obama was announcing a $1 billion incentive proposal to challenge cities and towns to come up with ways to help people make use of fuel-efficient technologies, such as more charging stations for electric vehicles, administration officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Obama had not yet laid out the proposal.

If Congress approves, up to 15 model communities would be picked as models of innovation.

Obama’s proposal effectively endorses a 2011 bipartisan congressional proposal to jump-start the market penetration of electric vehicles through model communities, but expands it to include other kinds of advanced fuel-efficient vehicles.

Obama has called for 1 million plug-in vehicles on American roads by 2015.

Obama’s attention to energy comes as high gas prices put a strain on pocket books. On Tuesday, the nationwide average for regular unleaded slipped less than a penny to $3.764 per gallon, ending a string of price increases that began on Feb. 8.

“It’s not good for the overall economy, because when gas prices go up, consumer spending oftentimes pulls back,” Obama said Tuesday in a White House news conference. “And we’re in the midst right now of a recovery that is starting to build up steam, and we don’t want to reverse it.”

Obama was also touting tax incentives for the purchase and deployment of more fuel-efficient vehicles that were included in his proposed budget for next year. He wants to increase the purchase incentive for some kinds of advanced vehicles to $10,000 from $7,500, something that would require congressional approval, and make the credit available to car buyers at the time of sale.

Obama was visiting a long-distance truck plant that has been hiring new workers to help fill an uptick in orders. It’s a chance for him to tout a rebounding economy that is creating more jobs ? especially in the manufacturing sector.

Obama will talk about the economy at a Freightliner plant in Mount Holly, a community of 14,000. It’s one of three Freightliner plants in the Charlotte area. He was proposing a new purchase credit for fuel-efficient large trucks.

Obama won North Carolina by 14,000 votes in 2008, the slimmest margin of all the states he carried. He was the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to carry the state. The Democratic National Convention is being held in Charlotte in early September.

Growing demand has prompted Freightliner, a division of Germany’s Daimler Trucks North America, to hire more workers to build trucks. Last year, the company said it would bring back 447 manufacturing jobs and 27 administrative positions in Mount Holly.

Freightliner announced in February it would hire 1,100 more workers at its Rowan County factory in Cleveland, and an additional 100 at a nearby Gastonia parts plant.

At one time, the Freightliner plant in Cleveland employed nearly 4,000 workers, said Corey Hill, president of United Auto Workers Local 3520. Now it has about 1,600, but more hires are expected.

Unemployment in Gaston and Rowan counties, where the plants are located, has been higher than the state average of 9.9 percent in December ? the last month when figures were available.

Some Freightliner workers make $24 an hour with benefits.

Obama told business leaders Tuesday that the nation needs to reform its tax system to help boost the economy, saying the American people “instinctually understand” that the U.S. needs a more balanced approach to solve its economic problems.

“The economy is getting stronger and the recovery is speeding up. The question now is how do we make sure it keeps going,” Obama said to the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of top U.S. corporations.