California is seeking to compromise with car makers by dropping a requirement that they sell electric cars, the state's latest attempt to persuade carmakers to end their opposition to the programme, Bloomberg News reported.

According to the news agency, citing spokesman Dimitri Stanich, the California Air Resources Board outlined proposed changes to the zero-emission vehicle program on Wednesday that would let companies sell more petrol-electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell cars instead of battery-powered cars starting with 2005 models.

Bloomberg News noted that, last year, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, joined by the Justice Department, won a federal injunction temporarily blocking the board from enforcing the programme which requires that 10% of cars sold in the state by the six biggest car makers emit almost no pollution. A district court in San Francisco is expected to rule on the suit this month.

"We're encouraged that with these proposed revisions CARB is working toward improving California's air quality while allowing manufacturers to use different technologies to meet the state's goals," Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham, said, according to Bloomberg News.

The news agency said that, since the early 1970s, California has had federal permission to set vehicle exhaust rules that exceed national standards because of air-pollution problems, particularly in the Los Angeles area. The state's consumers buy more than 12% of new vehicles sold in the country annually and California's rules can have a national impact.

Stanich told Bloomberg News that, under the latest proposal, car makers, including General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan would be expected to sell a combination of hybrids and petrol-engine vehicles that emit almost no tailpipe exhaust or pollution from fuel evaporation.

Bloomberg said the companies would also be expected to sell 250 zero-emission vehicles by 2008 that could be powered either by batteries or fuel cells. Vehicle makers have baulked at selling pure electric vehicles, saying they are too costly and have too little range to satisfy most consumers.

Bloomberg News said the board will seek approval of the revisions at a meeting in the state capital Sacramento later this month. In January the agency proposed easing the mandate by delaying its start until 2005 from 2003, halving the required number of battery or fuel-cell vehicles, and encouraging companies to comply by selling more hybrids.

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