8 states lay out plans to encourage use of zero-emission vehicles

A coalition of eight states announced plans Thursday to boost the use of electric cars and other zero-emission vehicles, promising incentives and an improved network of fueling stations to encourage consumers to buy the vehicles and prompt manufacturers to produce more of them.

The eight governors who signed the agreement, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, hope to put at least 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on their roads by 2025. To reach that goal, they pledged to install more electric charging stations, introduce or continue tax breaks for consumers and add such vehicles to government fleets. Some other states have similar incentives, although they did not join the group.

Collectively, the eight states — California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont — represent about 23 percent of the U.S. auto market, according to information the group released Thursday.

“We think it’s doable,” said Mary Nichols, chairman of the Air Resources Board in California, the biggest market in the group. “The market is moving fast. It started from zero, and it accelerated very quickly.”

Nichols and others said the greatest obstacle is consumer resistance to new technology. Buyers must be convinced that the vehicles will work for them, she said, a process that usually requires seeing them on the road or in a neighbor’s driveway — not just in an advertisement.

“Once we are able to get the word out to consumers that there is an infrastructure out there, and [it is] all over the state . . . we’ll be able to encourage a greater desire to get an electric vehicle in Maryland,” said Samantha Kappalman, a spokeswoman for O’Malley.

U.S. motorists bought about 52,000 electric cars in 2012, up from about 17,000 in 2011, according to the group. More than 40,000 plug-in cars were sold in the first half of 2013. In addition to all-electric cars, the group wants to encourage production and purchase of fuel cell vehicles, which run on hydrogen, and plug-in hybrids, which have both electric and gasoline engines.

The burning of fossil fuels to power cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes was responsible for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The development of electric vehicles has been limited by, among other factors, the high price of their batteries and the limited range of cars that run solely on electricity.

Ken Elias, a partner in Maryann Keller & Associates, an automotive consulting firm, said the best way to encourage the construction of charging stations and other infrastructure is to provide incentives to private industry.

Real estate developers and private companies need to install them at workplaces, so commuters can charge cars at home and at work, he said.

“Private real estate needs an incentive to put these charging stations in, and someone’s going to have to pay for them because they need to be maintained and the electricity isn’t free,” Elias said.

Wade Newton, communications director for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement that “automakers are committed to these technologies. After all, automakers have invested billions of dollars in bringing these products to market. By next year, there will be 26 battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on sale, and we need a strong, robust, vibrant market for those vehicles.”

Maryland wants to put 60,000 zero-emission vehicles on its roads by 2020, Kappalman said, and will add 110 to 160 public charging stations to the 430 that exist. In addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit available to buyers of such vehicles, the state offers a $1,000 excise tax credit, a $400 tax credit for any equipment purchased and access to HOV lanes, she said.

In 2012, 1,764 electric vehicles were sold in Maryland, up from 227 in 2011. This year’s sales are expected to surpass last year’s, she said.