Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the requirements and goals to receive ZEV credits under a California law.
WASHINGTON -- Seven Northeast states agreed to help automakers boost consumer demand for electric vehicles, which has remained at ultra-low levels in the region despite government-mandated sales quotas designed to improve air quality.
At the New York auto show on Wednesday, the states and 16 auto companies launched "Drive Change. Drive Electric," an education campaign to increase consumer awareness about the growing list of plug-in, plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicles to choose from, incentive programs that make them more affordable, and the various benefits they provide.
There are 53 different electric vehicle models for sale in the U.S., including 30 battery electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf, Mini and the fuel cell-powered Toyota Mirai. That doesn't include 43 gasoline-electric hybrid models such as the Toyota Prius.
About 1 percent of new cars sold in the U.S. are battery electric and plug-in electric vehicles, equivalent to fewer than 200,000 vehicles out of 17.25 million sold last year, according to data from Hybridcars.com. EV sales in California, by comparison, are about 5 percent of total sales.
"We want [consumers] to know about the incentives being offered at the federal and local level, including HOV access and [subsidized] parking," Steve Douglas, senior director of energy and environment at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in an interview ahead of the show. "Not only do electric vehicles fit in your life, in many cases they are more convenient and can be had at lower cost. The last thing we want is EVs sitting on dealer lots unsold."
California led the way in mandating the sale of zero-emission vehicles at increasing volumes over time. Under the state program's formula, automakers receive a certain number of credits for each vehicle based on the type of clean technology involved, vehicle sales and electric range.
In 2018, ZEV credits must equal 4.5 percent of new light-vehicle sales in the state. The credit requirement rises to 22 percent of sales in 2025.
Nine states, as permitted under the federal Clean Air Act, have adopted California's ZEV mandate. But automakers have concentrated sales efforts in the Golden State because it has a long history with EVs, comprehensive policies to support their adoption and remains a huge market.
The state campaign partners -- New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Jersey -- will work through the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management to spread the word about EVs.
Elements of the education program include a newly launched website (www.driveelectricUS.com), advertising, social media, strategic partnerships and ride-and-drive events, organizers said.
Meanwhile, the Auto Alliance also launched a "Buyers Wanted!" campaign with a microsite and social media outreach also aimed at convincing shoppers to consider EVs for their small car, large car, crossover, SUV and minivan needs.
Automakers are making large investments in electric vehicles and industry officials say they want the mandates to succeed since they are being held to the targets.