“I further propose we inspire the ingenuity and resolve of the American people,” Mr. McCain said, “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 percent of current costs. “That’s one dollar, one dollar, for every man, woman and child in the U.S. — a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency,” he said.
If a corporation were to dedicate genuine effort to build this miracle battery, it would assign a director to the project, who would allocate a certain number of man-hours to the problem. The people who worked on the project would all have access to one another's research, and they would all get paid regardless of whether they arrived at a solution. Big companies, like governments are common pools for a lot of money, which is why they can afford to invest large sums up front to achieve a desired solutions.
Imagine a company instead saying "Okay, all of you employees start coming up with crazy ideas to design your own battery. Whoever pulls it off gets a gigantic bonus. Everyone else gets paid nothing." That's essentially what John McCain's proposal is. He's not fronting ANY of the money to generate this research. He's not proposing to absorb any of the risk, since if no engine gets built, no prize gets awarded. All he's offering to do is buy a finished product which does not yet exist.
I have to conclude that John McCain is not in the slightest bit serious about actually funding a solution to the problem. R&D is risky, therefore the cost of doing it is far higher than developing an actual product using known techniques. In any case, anyone who was capable of creating the miracle battery using only the funds available to an unfinanced individual would be able to make so much money from it that being bought out for $300 million in the end would most likely be insulting.
If McCain thinks the free market is so darn awesome, why hasn't the magic battery been produced already? This is a man who has no ideas.