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A voluntary effort to speed up the availability of electric vehicles in Colorado has come unplugged

Automakers hoped they could convince Colorado not to adopt controversial zero-emission vehicle standards by volunteering to make more electric-vehicle models available in the state

Tesla Supercharger at the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree on April 20, 2019. Special charging stalls for electric vehicles are only for Tesla's. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)
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Automakers hoped they could convince Colorado not to adopt controversial zero-emission vehicle standards by volunteering to make more electric-vehicle models available in the state more quickly.

But the negotiations have hit a dead end, state officials said Tuesday.

“It wasn’t a matter of discussions falling apart, but discussions falling into a different place,” said Shoshana Lew, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, adding that the law under consideration limits how it can be shaped and constructive meetings with automakers has paved the way for the sides to work together on a zero emission vehicle (ZEV) standard.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers opposes additional regulations that would come with Colorado adopting California’s ZEV standard. Last month, automakers volunteered their own ideas, which included offering to make all of their California EV models available in Colorado starting in January 2020.

But the proposal arrived on April 29, less than two weeks before the state Air Quality Control Commission was scheduled to consider joining California’s ZEV mandate. The commission voted to move forward and will begin the rulemaking process in August.

MORE: A first look at how Colorado will become a ZEV state: the rule, the cost, the debate

“Despite good-faith efforts by all parties, we were unable to reach agreement on a voluntary approach that could be considered as a potential alternative to the zero-emission vehicle standard,” the state’s transportation, energy and environment offices under Gov. Jared Polis said in a joint statement.

The auto alliance has said that more than 40 zero-emission vehicles were available at the end of 2018, but only about 30 were offered for sale in Colorado. Kelley Blue Book, however, counted just 12 EV models offered in Colorado last year, compared with 48 in California.

If the state adopts California’s ZEV standard, auto manufacturers would be required to make electric vehicles account for nearly 5% of their vehicles for sale in Colorado by 2023, with higher rates in following years.

Bryan Goodman, a spokesman for the automaker’s alliance, called the discussions “enlightening for everyone involved.”

The automakers proposed investing in ZEV infrastructure, like charging stations, and providing greater incentives and marketing of EVs beyond what the state and federal incentives do.

But in a state where buyers prefer SUVs and trucks — which are rare as EVs — the two sides couldn’t get past some of the existing rules, such as the state’s dealer franchise laws, which prevent dealers from concentrating electric vehicles in urban areas, where the state wanted them most.

“We were wrestling with complex topics, many of which are regulated by well-established laws like antitrust and state motor vehicle franchise laws,” Goodman said. “Finding solutions that worked within those confines proved insurmountable.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs an executive order on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, that puts the state on a path to be aligned with California’s zero-emission vehicle standard. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

California’s ZEV mandate rewards automakers with credits based on how many electric vehicles they offer in ZEV states, or else face fines. But an unresolved area in the state discussions was whether automakers would earn such credits before model year 2023, when the mandate would take effect.

“If we can achieve a sweet spot where we can accomodate and give them some form of credit for bringing cars to Colorado before 2023, one of the biggest things to be gained is that we are getting the cars here earlier,” Lew said. “There is limited flexibility by regulation.”

State officials who spent four weeks discussing the proposal with the automakers also included Will Toor, head of the Colorado Energy Office, and Jill Hunsacker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“The depth of these conversations and identification of common objectives will prove invaluable as we work together to provide cleaner options for Coloradans,” the pair said in a statement.

“However,” they wrote, “we believe the insights we have gained will inform and benefit the rulemaking process, as well as our implementation strategy, so we can see more zero emission vehicles move from the factory floor to dealer showrooms to customers all across Colorado.”

This story’s headline was updated at 4:50 p.m. on June 4, 2019 to clarify that the voluntary proposal was scrapped. The proposal for Colorado to adopt California’s ZEV standard continues.


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