8 States Team Up to Increase Electric Car Sales

WASHINGTON - In an effort to spur lackluster sales of electric cars, California, New York and six other states said Thursday that they would work jointly to adopt a range of measures, from encouraging more charging stations to changing building codes, to make it easier to own an electric car.

The goal, they said, was to achieve sales of at least 3.3 million vehicles that do not have any emissions by 2025.

The states, which represent more than a quarter of the national car market, said they would seek to develop charging stations that all took the same form of payment, simplify their rules for installing chargers, and set building codes and other regulations to require the stations at workplaces, multifamily residences and other places.

They said they would also promote hydrogen fueling stations, presuming that fuel-cell cars become more widely available. And they said they would promote 'time of use' electric rates that would allow charging at off-peak prices, and expand incentives like high-occupancy lane access and reduced tolls and preferential parking. The states also said they would buy electric cars for their own fleets, and in some cases encourage their municipalities to do the same.

'There's much that states can do, and perhaps even more that local governments can do,' said Mary D. Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board and a longtime promoter of electric cars. In a telephone interview, she said that electric cars were 'in the midst of a start-up,' and she predicted that they would 'go viral.'

The coalition of states - California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maryland and Oregon - is roughly the same as the one that banded together in the early 1990s to embrace tighter emissions limits on gasoline-powered cars, which the federal government later embraced.

Part of their theory now is help remove one of the biggest obstacles to owning an electric car - the underdeveloped network of charging stations. In the East, where drivers often commute across state lines, coordinated action by smaller states will also encourage sales, backers say.

Environmental officials from the states gathered in Sacramento to announce the agreement.

The Northeast states have already been working together; one early result is a map of the more than a thousand charging stations between Maine and the District of Columbia. Vicki Arroyo, the executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law School, said the group was working on uniform signage and more standard payment systems - the equivalent of an E-ZPass for electric charging.

The states did not give a total amount for what they would spend, and some steps would not cost the governments much money, like letting electric vehicles use car pool lanes or requiring property owners to install chargers.

A spokesman for the air resources board pointed out that the states have money from a variety of sources. For example, Connecticut has money paid by Northeast Utilities when it merged with NStar; Massachusetts has an EV Incentive Program funded by the state's Department of Environmental Protection; and in Maryland, the Legislature approved tax credits. Oregon received financing through the federal stimulus program, as did Rhode Island. Vermont got some money from Hydro Quebec, the provincial utility.

The joint effort comes as sales of electric cars have lagged the Obama administration's ambitious goal of having 1 million sold by 2015.

The Web site EVobsession noted recently that through the end of August, sales of the Chevy Volt were at a level that would produce about 22,000 a year, roughly the same as last year. The car runs enough miles on electricity to cover an average commuter's trip but also has a gasoline engine, which gives it virtually unlimited range, but it is not on its way to becoming a mass seller. The Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car, was running roughly neck-and-neck with the Volt in sales.

Others sold in far smaller numbers. Counting all makes, annual sales of electric cars were running at just over 45,000; annual sales of plug-in hybrids, which run on gasoline and battery power and require a charge, were running at roughly the same rate.

Automakers, facing pressure to meet sales mandates, have been scrambling to spur sales. In August, General Motors said it would cut the price of the 2014 Volt by $5,000. Prices for some other models have also been falling.


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