WASHINGTON — Nine states have adopted California's clean-air rules mandating sales of zero-emission vehicles. But they haven't come close to matching California's appetite for green cars.
How to close that gap is now a more pressing question for states and automakers.
Automakers think state governments should do more to promote the purchase of electric vehicles and develop charging networks. State leaders and environmental groups, meanwhile, are looking to the auto industry to offer more compelling choices and do a better job of marketing their plug-in vehicles outside California.
"We expect to see more vehicles in these states made available," said Elaine O'Grady, senior policy adviser for Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a group representing eight Northeast states, seven of which are in the ZEV program. "Hopefully, manufacturers will market them more aggressively."
The future of the ZEV program could depend on whether California retains its power to regulate tailpipe emissions more strictly than the federal government. That power has been questioned by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. But for now, it's the law by which automakers must live.
For years, California was the center of the EV universe. Along with the mandate, it has some of the country's highest gasoline prices, a powerful environmental lobby and regulatory structure, strong monetary and nonmonetary incentives for EV purchases — such as access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes — and a mild climate optimal for battery range.
Battery-electric and plug-in hybrids accounted for 3 percent of new-vehicle sales in California last year, compared with 1.1 percent nationwide, according to market research firm Baum and Associates.
Automakers could safely focus on the Golden State because of the so-called travel provision, which allowed them to apply a certain amount of EV credits toward their quota in other states for each sale in California, while those other markets warmed up to EVs.
But this year, that double-counting loophole goes away, except for fuel cell vehicles. Automakers are now required to physically sell electric cars and trucks in all nine states.
"We're already seeing increases in the Northeast in terms of sales," O'Grady said.
In late March, seven states from New Jersey to Vermont joined with major automakers to launch the "Drive Change. Drive Electric" campaign to increase awareness of available vehicles, incentive programs and their financial and operational benefits. The campaign should help "prime the market," said O'Grady, whose group is coordinating the effort on behalf of the states.
Automakers, for their part, are investing billions of dollars to launch more EV models and perfect the technology in response to stricter emissions regulations around the world. Beyond the awareness campaign, they want ZEV states to support the market the same way California does, with more consumer incentives, chargers and required fleet purchases for state agencies.
"If we have a mandate, we want the mandate to be as effective as possible," Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told Automotive News. "California has really made a commitment. They're living it. Other states have not done that to the same degree, and they need to."
The trade group said it helped draft a bill now stalled in the Maryland Senate that would phase in a requirement that at least half the light-duty vehicles the state buys for its fleets be alternative fuel by 2026.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's office opposed the legislation in Senate memos, citing the cost, range limitations and the lack of charging infrastructure — the same arguments often expressed by reluctant consumers. Still, Maryland has a goal of 60,000 ZEVs on the road by 2020 and 300,000 by 2025. Today, there are more than 11,600 plug-in EVs, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Officials and environmental groups say ZEV states have made substantial strides to prepare their markets. Most have purchase incentives in place, have made substantial investments in charging infrastructure and are looking for opportunities to lead by example. For fleets, some states are running EV pilot programs with agencies, while others make grant programs available to state and municipal fleets or set purchase goals, O'Grady said.
More regular and fast-charging infrastructure is planned, aided by money from the $2 billion fund Volkswagen established to atone for its role in the diesel emissions scandal.
The Maryland Public Service Commission is studying a proposal to install 24,000 chargers, a network second only to California's.
Paul Farrell, assistant director for air planning at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the expiration of the travel provision should spur automakers to better market electric cars.
"If you open up the Sunday newspaper, advertisements promoting EVs don't jump off the page," he said. "So, clearly the autos can be doing more to market these vehicles."