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Obama talks up clean vehicles in N.C. speech

MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. -- Mixing politics with policy, President Barack Obama returned to North Carolina on Wednesday to step up his wooing of this key election-year swing state and to propose new federal incentives to spur "clean energy" vehicles.

In a speech at the Daimler Trucks manufacturing plant -- a rare union shop in right-to-work North Carolina -- Obama announced a $1 billion challenge to communities that, he said, could eventually reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and consumers' exposure to sticker-shock prices at the gas pump.

Those willing to shift to more energy-efficient vehicles, the president said, would be rewarded with bigger tax breaks of up to $10,000 as well as other federal assistance.

"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 told a crowd.

The plant in Gaston County's second-largest city not only manufactures diesel trucks, but also hybrid and natural gas versions. In November, it became the first company to deliver its 1,000th natural gas truck.

As the administration presses the message that the economy is on the rebound, the president Wednesday gave a shout-out to the plant for hiring more than 1,000 people last year.

"That is something to be proud of," Obama said. "Now, here at Daimler, you're not just building trucks. You're building better trucks."