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GM Sues to Overturn State’s Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate

TIMES STAFF WRITER

General Motors filed suit Friday in California to overturn the state’s zero emission vehicle mandate. The action came a day after the state air resources board rejected GM’s bid to delay implementation of the rules.

The so-called ZEV mandate would require major auto makers to begin offering a limited number of zero emission vehicles for sale or lease in the state in 2003. The numbers would ratchet slowly upward each year, but initially as few at 4,600 would be required of GM, Ford Motor, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan combined.

The auto industry has opposed the mandate, but GM is alone in suing to overturn the air board’s Jan. 25 unanimous approval of the rules.

The company says it filed suit because it has no other options under state law. GM is particularly concerned because New York, Massachusetts and Vermont automatically adopt California’s emission standards.

The four states account for about 18% of the U.S. auto market, including California’s 9% share, and adoption of the mandate by all four would double the number of vehicles GM would have to produce. That would cost the company “hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” said Dennis R. Minano, GM’s chief environmental officer.

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To date, the only type of vehicle that meets the strict zero emission standard is the battery-powered electric vehicle. The auto industry has been united in labeling that technology a costly stopgap that will become obsolete in a decade or so as fuel cell technologies are perfected.

GM--once the principal booster of electric vehicles and manufacturer of the sleek EV1 electric sports coupe--is the only auto maker to continue to press publicly for reversal of the air board’s approval of the ZEV mandate.

The suit, filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court, alleges that the air board ignored the financial impact of the mandate on the affected businesses and refused to consider what GM claims is a better alternative--to substitute a five-year test of public acceptance of electric vehicles in which the auto industry would attempt to market them competitively in a single major urban area such as Los Angeles.

The suit also claims that the ZEV mandate “raises significant safety issues” by encouraging production of thousands of low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles that often look like oversized golf carts and are limited to surface streets with speed limits of 35 mph or less.

The company has the technical ability to meet the mandate requirements, Minano said, but believes it imposes an unfair financial burden.

Jerry Martin, chief spokesman for the air board, said Friday that the speed with which GM filed its suit “shows that they were planning on suing all along.”

Despite the suit, Minano said, GM will continue “trying to reengage the state in a full dialogue to replace the mandate with a more balanced and commercially feasible means of continuing to clean California’s air.”

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers--which represents 13 major auto makers including GM--said Friday that it will not join GM in the legal action. Instead, alliance spokeswoman Gloria Berquist said that although the group opposes the mandate, it is negotiating with the air board over various technical requirements in an effort to make implementation in 2003 as smooth and painless as possible.


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