By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nissan plant in Tennessee that makes the all-electric Leaf stands to benefit from an announcement this week that eight states will work together to dramatically increase the number of zero-emission cars on the nation’s roads. But Tennessee isn’t among the states signing the agreement, and Republican leaders say they have no plans to do so.
Meanwhile, a state program offering a $2,500 incentive for electric vehicle purchases expired in January, and Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has made no moves to revive it.
“The governor supports innovations that lead to increased efficiency in vehicles, but he also believes that it’s better for demand to be market-driven,” Haslam spokesman David Smith said in an email.
Nissan makes the Leaf and its lithium-ion batteries at its sprawling plant in Smyrna, a Nashville suburb. The Japanese automaker sold more than 16,000 Leafs through the first nine months of the year — three times as many as through the same period a year ago.
Governors from eight states representing 23 percent of the U.S. auto market pledged Thursday to get 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on roadways by 2025 in an effort to curb greenhouse gas pollution from transportation sources.
Each state has already adopted rules to require a percentage of new vehicles sold to be zero emission by 2025. California’s mandate calls for growing the zero-emission vehicles from the current level of less than 2 percent to more than 15 percent, or 1.5 million vehicles.
The other states involved in the agreement are Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Bill Hagerty, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said the state is committed to boosting the automotive sector in Tennessee. But there are no current state initiatives to boost zero-emissions cars.
“The market will determine which vehicles will be selected by consumers,” Hagerty said. “We don’t have anything on the books or planned to try to alter market forces.”
Hagerty said his department hasn’t been lobbied to join the effort to boost zero-emissions sales.
“This is a regulatory requirement that would have a disproportionate impact on some vehicles over others, and we’ve not had that conversation here,” he said.
Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman said there’s a variety of incentive programs that complement the federal $7,500 rebate for electric vehicles, and that Tennessee has a strong sales market for the Leaf, especially in the Nashville area.
“We recognize as a company that Tennessee is taking steps and has been very supportive for the rollout of Nissan Leaf and other electric cars,” he said. “We certainly appreciate that and think it’s very helpful in terms of educating the public and getting more people interested in electric vehicles.”
Tennessee’s $2,500 rebate was opened to 1,000 buyers of the Leaf and Chevy Volt in 2010. The national program it was tied to ceased taking enrollment earlier this year, and Tennessee followed suit on Jan. 31. By that point, 772 rebates had been issued, totaling $1.8 million — about $700,000 short of its original goal.
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said efforts to increase the number of electric and hybrid vehicles are complicated by the state’s reliance on gasoline taxes to pay for road maintenance and construction.
“There’s a paradox there,” Norris said. “The more you go these alternative fuel vehicles, the less ability you have to pay for your roads.
“At the same time a lot of states are looking for more revenue to pay for their roads,” he said. “So that’s got to be dealt with.”
Norris said he doesn’t see a role for state lawmakers in requiring a certain level of electric vehicles on Tennessee roads.
“I don’t want a mandate,” he said. “If they can compete with the rest of them, then more power to them.”