Automakers recognize that California’s zero-emission vehicle rules, adopted by nine other states, are tightening up in 2018 and that the deadline is fast approaching.

Under California’s ZEV rule, automakers have been able to earn partial credits from sales of hybrids (including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles) and low-emissions conventional vehicles toward their ZEV quotas. But the regulations are slated to tighten in 2018 in a way that limits the impact of those partial credits and requires more sales of actual ZEVs, or battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

California and nine other states – Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont – accounted for 28 percent of new-vehicle registrations in the U.S. last year, according to IHS Automotive data.  Automakers will have to be even more engaged in California’s complex system of credits and sales-based quotas. The California regulations have challenged automakers to work harder to get competitive EVs to the market including lower priced, 200-mile-plus range models led by the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3.

“As we are now closer to 2018, everyone is beginning to see that the mandate is not going away,” said Devin Lindsay, IHS Automotive’s principal analyst for North American powertrains.

Automakers are expressing a wide range of opinions on the rules. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has continued questioning the profitability of electrified vehicles.

“Why don’t I make the iPhone of cars? Because if it looks and smells like Tesla, I don’t know how to make that economic model work. … I’m not even sure you can recover all of your costs — let alone generate a profit — through electrification,” Marchionne said to British magazine CAR.

Complying with the California requirements continue to be troublesome for some automakers. Several automakers contacted by Automotive News said the paperwork burden is significant. Mercedes-Benz USA said in a statement: “We support a strong and comprehensive national policy that could erase administrative and logistical burdens.”

Mike Levine, Ford product communications manager, said working with the California Air Resources Board “is a partnership we value” in raising consumer awareness of EVs. Ford and CARB have partnered on EV ride-and-drive events for consumers, as well as education programs.

“Our strategy includes steadily growing sales of electrified products across the country over the next several years,” Levine wrote in an email.

The federal Clean Air Act does allow states to depart from the federal air-quality standards, but only by adopting California’s rules. That helps automakers target their zero-emission vehicles in a way that maximizes the compliance benefits.

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Automakers are launching EVs in states such as California, Oregon, New York, and New Jersey, to gain ZEV credits and to test out how well these product launches are going with consumers. Mercedes-Benz says it allocates its S550e plug-in hybrid, GLE550e plug-in hybrid crossover, B-class electric, and Smart ForTwo electric drive to California and Oregon, though “certified” dealers in other states can stock or order them.

Automakers are taking advantage of the “travel provision” in the California regulations – which counts any EV sale in any of the states complying with California’s ZEV mandate toward the automakers’ quotas in each of the other nine states. Some clean-air advocates have complained that this allows automakers to focus their green car efforts narrowly on California, while the other states realize little or no air-quality benefit.

Automakers say there are other factors at work. Michael Lord, executive engineer for product regulatory affairs at Toyota Motor North America, said Toyota launched the Mirai fuel cell EV last October in California because the hydrogen-refueling infrastructure was concentrated there. Other automakers cited California’s support structure for ZEV sales including purchase incentives, access to high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, charging infrastructure, and reduced parking rates.

Automotive News