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Electric Vehicles in NJ: Going Nowhere Fast — And That’s the Problem

If New Jersey can’t get one in seven cars on the road to be an EV by 2025, automakers could face fines that would likely be passed on to consumers

electric car

By 2025, one out of every seven cars sold in New Jersey needs to be an electric vehicle. Many motorists might be surprised to know that’s the law — with consequences if the state fails to achieve that goal.

The law is the California low-emission vehicle program, a groundbreaking scheme designed to put cleaner cars on the road, and eliminate one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the western state — and the nine states in the Northeast that have adopted the plan.

Last year, less than a thousand electric cars were sold in New Jersey, and with the California program ratcheting up significantly next year, some are beginning to worry it just will not happen. In 2018, 5 percent of cars sold would have to be zero-emission vehicles, either electric or powered by fuel cells.

“We’re doing nothing to get zero-emission vehicles on the road,’’ warned Sen. Bob Smith, a Middlesex County Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “We are going to be out of compliance. We’ve got to get moving on this.’’

Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, also is pessimistic. “New Jersey is not on a path to successfully meet the goals of the California program,’’ he said.

If it doesn’t, auto manufacturers could face fines, costs likely that would be passed on to the buying public, according to Appleton.

Many environmentalists agree, saying the state needs to offer more incentives to deal with one of the biggest worries that is convincing so many consumers to hold off buying the cleaner cars. That fear is range anxiety, the concern that a car will run out of power before a driver can find a charging station.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, noted there are only 400 or so public charging stations in the state, far less than neighboring states have installed. “Quite frankly, the Christie administration has been sitting on the sidelines,’’ he said. “The world is changing. New Jersey needs to be a part of it.’’

In recent sessions, legislators have moved bills that would lead to more charging stations on frequently traveled toll roads. One bill (S-2640) would require so-called Level 3 charging stations to be installed in three different regions of the state along the New Jersey Turnpike. Level 3 charging stations are capable of charging a vehicle in about 30 minutes.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer), cleared the Senate committee this past Monday. It is designed as a pilot program to help deal with range anxiety, the sponsor said.

“We just have very few charging stations. That’s what really makes people think twice about buying electric cars,’’ she said.

In November, an Assembly committee moved a pair of bills to increase the availability of electric-vehicle charging stations by mandating their installation on service stations on toll roads.

Pamela Frank, president of Charge EVC, a newly formed coalition promoting electric vehicles, said the timing is good to act on the issue. “There’s a big opportunity before us,’’ said Frank, referring to the marketing of new modestly priced electric cars with a range of greater than 200 miles.

Both Frank and Smith also noted that the state may obtain $60 million from Volkswagen as a result of a settlement involving the carmaker’s emission-equipment scandal. They hope that the money can be used to install additional charging stations around the state.

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