KEITH CRAIN

States meddle in car sales again

COMMENTARY
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News
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It wasn't that long ago that California adopted a zero-emission vehicle policy that cost a lot of money and didn't do a thing. The state mandated that ZEVs had to be 2 percent of major automakers' sales in California, increasing to 10 percent after a few years.

Manufacturers scrambled to find ZEVs that could be sold in California, but all the factories ended up with were electric cars that were not very good. The only ZEV at the time was electric. No one had a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle on the drawing board. California abandoned the plan in 2001.

Now California is at it again. Only this time it will be joined by seven other states. The eight states want 15 percent of new vehicles sold within their borders to be ZEVs by 2025, or about 3.3 million ZEVs.

It didn't work then, and it won't work now. You cannot force products on the public. If and when zero-pollution vehicles improve and become competitive with existing petroleum-powered vehicles in terms of performance and value, ZEVs will become more popular and successful.

There have been plenty of incentives in California for ZEVs, including financial and nonfinancial incentives for hybrids and electrics as the state and federal government tried to push demand beyond its normal point.

It hasn't worked.

Now the eight states say they expect that 15 percent of their sales will be ZEVs in 11 short years. It's nice that they have such wishes -- but if mandates work, why don't they mandate a cure for cancer by the same date?

You can't push technology faster than consumers are willing to cooperate.

Governments, state and federal, seem to believe that by waving a magic wand, they can create demand and products out of the blue sky in the blink of an eye.

Those eight states represent almost a quarter of all U.S. vehicle sales. About the only thing that those states will be able to do is create chaos and higher costs for everybody.

Sadly, the higher costs will be passed on to consumers as car companies grapple with yet another standard that is nothing more than wishful thinking. Buyers will pay the cost regardless of whether or not they are within those eight states or have any interest in electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

If people are convinced that ZEVs make sense for them, they will make the purchase, but no amount of uninformed government thinking will mandate 15 percent of sales.

Once again, government is attempting to market by fiat. It didn't work before, and it won't work now.

I wish they'd concentrate on curing cancer.

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