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GM, California in Talks to Settle Emission Suits

Negotiations come after the state drops a rule requiring electric cars powered by batteries.

May 31, 2003|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

General Motors Corp. said Friday that it has begun talks with the state in hopes of settling state and federal lawsuits it filed to block California's zero-emission-vehicle mandate.

The suits were filed last year by GM, the world's largest carmaker, and DaimlerChrysler.

The carmakers argued that the ZEV mandate was an effort to force them to sell battery-powered electric vehicles for which, they said, there was no market.

GM also argued that the mandate was a poorly disguised effort by the state to usurp the federal government's authority to regulate fuel economy standards.

The settlement talks were expected after the California Air Resources Board last month revised its ZEV rule. The board dropped its order that automakers produce battery-powered electric cars and told them to produce more fuel-cell electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles that use gasoline and electric motors.

Those new rules are to take effect with the 2005 model year, and automakers reportedly want state assurances that the rules won't change if they drop their suits.

Fuel cell and hybrid vehicles do not need the large racks of rechargeable storage batteries that battery-electric cars depend on and that automakers say are impractical and too expensive.

GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss confirmed Friday that the company's attorneys are discussing a potential settlement with the state and that both state and federal courts have asked to be kept informed of the progress of the talks.

GM officials have said privately that dropping the suit would help polish the company's image in the state and make it easier to deal with air quality regulators. GM has been branded anti-environmental in many quarters for its staunch opposition to the ZEV mandate.

The ZEV rule is part of a set of state pollution-control laws that are tougher than federal standards. Federal lawmakers gave California power to exceed national standards because of the state's poor air quality. In addition, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont have adopted California's vehicle emissions standards.

Because Californians purchase 13% of all cars and passenger trucks sold in the U.S., automakers often find it easier to manufacture all their vehicles to meet California standards.

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