SMYRNA, Tenn. -- Auto dealers, rather than the Internal Revenue Service, could take over the task of awarding hybrid and electric vehicle buyers with their $7,500 federal incentive checks as soon as next year, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday.
LaHood believes Congress will consider the proposal as part of changes to U.S. tax and energy policy in the coming year.
"We're doing a lot of talking about it," LaHood said of the change, proposed earlier this year by the Obama administration. "When you give people that incentive to buy a battery-powered car, they'll do it. We know these incentives help."
LaHood was in Smyrna, Tenn., Tuesday to tour Nissan's $1.6 billion EV battery plant under construction. The automaker says it will be the country's largest lithium-ion battery plant.
Under current U.S. energy policy, consumers who buy a Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, or other qualifying alternative-power vehicle, receive a $7,500 tax refund when they file their federal income tax return.
LaHood said the Obama Administration believes that allowing auto retailers to handle the incentive as an immediate rebate will encourage more consumers to buy hybrids and EVs.
He compared it to the 2009 federal Cash for Clunkers program, which spurred new vehicle sales with dealer rebates that arrived a few weeks after the purchase.
Nissan's new battery plant, which was funded with a $1.4 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, will contain a 100,000-square-foot humidity-controlled clean room, the largest in North America, according to Nissan's project manager, Jeff Deaton.
The building will be completed this summer and equipment installation will take place by the end of this year, Nissan says.
The battery module plant will support the launch of Nissan Leaf production in Smyrna late next year. The all-electric Leaf is now built in Japan.
The battery plant has a planned full capacity of 200,000 lithium-ion battery modules. The automaker is also retooling its Smyrna Altima/Maxima car assembly line to build up to 150,000 Leafs annually.