mary nichols carbMary Nichols, chairman of California Air Resources Board, recently took a jab at automaker trade groups for urging the US Environmental Protection Agency to block California's zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates. They're undermining the progress they've been making in creating the market for electric cars and other ZEVs, she said.

"Talk about shooting yourselves in the foot, or maybe I could say, tripping over your own halo," Nichols said at Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International's World Congress in Detroit.

The two major auto manufacturer trade groups – Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers – filed a petition with the EPA last month. Automakers would like the federal government to block California's requirement that 1.4 million electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles be sold by 2025.

Automakers would like the federal government to block California's requirement that 1.4 million electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles be sold by 2025.

California mandates require that GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan and Honda sell a combined 60,000 battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel-cell cars in the state through 2014. By 2018, the ZEV rules will be expanded to include Hyundai, Kia, Daimler, Volkswagen, BMW and Mazda. Last year, the state established standards for rising annual targets and that ZEVs reach 15 percent of its new car sales by 2015. California's standards are being followed by more than a dozen states.

California has been through this fight with automakers in years past. Nichols would like to see stakeholders work together this time to make it happen. Nichols asked, "Rather than rehashing the same, tired legal battles of our past, why not work together to collectively support and develop this market?"

Gloria Berquist, a spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, responded with a recurring automaker concern in an email to The Washington Post: "Automakers hope that consumers will buy zero-emission vehicles in large volumes, but so far, sales have been lower than necessary to meet California's aspirational goals. It serves no one, not the state economy or consumers or automakers, to have these vehicles sit unsold on dealer lots."

Ah yes, the "big picture" question faced by proponents of ZEVs – what will it take to develop the market?