Environmentalists Promise to Fight Proposed California ZEV Rule Changes

State considering letting hybrid-electrics as alternatives to battery electric vehicles.

Published: 06-Mar-2003

Changes may be afoot for a landmark state regulation hat requires California car dealers to sell a certain number of electric cars per year.

State regulators are now considering allowing hybrid gas-electric cars to be used as an alternative to electric vehicles. The move was made partly out of practicality. Most major domestic automakers have stopped production of all-electric cars, while more hybrid vehicles are coming on line all the time.

If regulators decide to accept the hybrids as an alternative to electric vehicles, it'll mean a partial reversal of a policy requiring two percent of all cars sold in California to be zero emission vehicles. That regulation originally required dealer compliance by 2003, but too few electric cars were available, and too few Californians were willing to buy them.

Hybrid cars use both a gasoline engine and electric motor when power is needed, then switch to all-electric mode when cruising. The cars burn gasoline, but in very small amounts. The hybrids emit a substantially smaller amount of pollutants than conventional gasoline-powered cars. Unlike pure electric vehicles, the hybrids don't need to be plugged into charging stations.

Those in the automobile industry say the hybrids represent a much more practical solution to reducing reliance on fossil fuels and decreasing air pollution. They contend the electric cars were never really well suited for general purpose driving. "It wasn't something that could be mass produced or the general public would really embrace as a car to have, because it wasn't practical," said Katina Rapton of Mel Rapton Honda.

Many experts agree with Rapton, pointing out that electric cars are relatively expensive, have limited travel range, and require daily charging.

Environmentalists promise to fight any attempt to change or weaken existing state regulations. "It's a very weak proposal and in fact would turn back the clock on clean vehicle technology," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen of the American Lung Association.

The state Air Resources Board is expected to release a staff report this week recommending changes to the zero emission mandate. The full board will review the recommendations later this month.

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