Back in 2011, the federal government announced new fuel economy standards affecting U.S. fleets through the year 2025. But a handful of states aren't satisfied with combustion engines boasting 54.5 mpg: they want to put millions of battery electric and other zero-emission vehicles on American roads over the next 11 years.
According to Auto News, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont have formed a coalition to create new means of encouraging the adoption of zero-emission vehicles. New York governor Andrew Cuomo hopes that the group can help put 3.3 million ZEVs in service by the year 2025. The coalition's tactics for achieving that goal range from the very small to the very large, including:
- Funding of public charging stations and parking zones: By making public charging widely available, these states hope to prove to consumers that ZEVs -- specifically, electric vehicles -- are viable alternatives to traditional cars. Creating parking zones for ZEV owners will offer additional adoption incentives, particularly in crowded urban areas.
- Uniform signage to indicate recharging/refueling areas: These will make it easier for drivers to find places to recharge -- or, in the case of fuel cell vehicles, refuel. As with the charging stations and parking zones mentioned above, these will also raise awareness of ZEVs, which should have a positive impact on sales down the road.
- Public programs like HOV access: Many cities and states already allow hybrids and electric cars to use HOV lanes, even when drivers are traveling alone. This may encourage adoption and, at the very least, will boost awareness.
- Lobbying for continued state and federal tax credits: Nothing talks quite like money. Keeping tax credits on the books, adding them where they don't exist, and increasing them could be enough to persuade some shoppers to make the switch.
Will these kinds of initiatives help the coalition put 3.3 million ZEVs on the road over the next 11 years?
Maybe. The eight states included in the group account for roughly 25 percent of U.S. auto sales, so encouraging adoption in those areas could have a major influence on nationwide numbers -- even if Southern and non-coastal states remain fiercely loyal to combustion engines.
That said, the group has a long row to hoe. It's true that sales of zero- and low-emission vehicles, from plug-in hybrids and battery electrics, are up 26 percent for the year, and it's likely that hybrids in particular will continue to perform well. However, analysts predict that true, zero-emission vehicles will remain a tough sell for the time being, and by 2020, they'll account for only about one percent of sales -- well below what's needed to reach the 3.3 million goal.
Many things could improve the coalition's odds, though. Better battery technology and range are perhaps the most eagerly anticipated innovations, along with faster recharging times for battery electric vehicles. The group's plan will also be helped as the price of electric vehicles comes down, so they're more on par with conventional cars. And of course, as more ZEV options arrive, they'll be appealing to a wider range of consumers.
In our opinion, the coalition has set itself a very lofty goal, but one that's doable -- provided no recessions or other adversities arise to impede the current rate of progress.