david sandalowOne of the differences between the Washington Auto Show and car shows in other cities is the almost overwhelming appearance of politicians and government officials. Whether they come to learn or to lecture (or both), these folks create a well-worn trail from the Hill to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center every January.

One such official who spoke at the show last week was David Sandalow, assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the Department Of Energy. His main point? That "this [auto industry] revival wasn't destined to happen," and only happened because of the "difficult" and vital choices that the Obama Administration made to save the auto industry, choices that are now paying off with jobs and an improving economy. From here on out, he said, we have to keep things humming by supporting innovative technology that makes our cars cleaner and better.

Sandalow, who also wrote "Freedom From Oil," said he was amazed at how fast technology has evolved in the last 15 years, the lifetime of his teenage daughter. "It's an incredibly exciting time," he said. "Technological innovation is sweeping the globe."

To that end, the DOE is supporting a lot of different research avenues, including light weighting, fuel cells, plug-in cars and biofuels. "Advanced batteries is a particularly important area that we're investing in," he said, citing the Batteries for Advanced Transportation Technologies Program at Berkeley National Lab as one strong example.

As a plug-in car driver himself, Sandalow said that, "One of the advantages of electric vehicles is that we have a widespread electricity infrastructure." Of course, building out a Level 2 network will require "some investment," he said, adding that the research shows that most people will charge their vehicles where they currently they park their vehicles: at home at night.

On this point, he told a story about a panel discussion on clean car technology that he saw a few years ago. Two auto execs (he declined to name them) were discussing the potential of introducing plug-in vehicles to the U.S. market. One of the execs said that plug-in cars aren't worth it because only half of U.S. drivers park where they can plug in at night. The other one said his company was very excited to introduce plug-ins here because half the people can charge up at night. Apocryphal or not, that right there tells you all you need to know about people who lead and people who follow.