The US state of California has amended its so- called zero-emission vehicle mandate, pushing back the start two years and easing some requirements in the hope that car makers that have sued to block the programme will drop their opposition, Bloomberg News reported.

General Motors and DaimlerChrysler AG were joined by the US Justice Department last year to win a federal injunction temporarily blocking California’s Air Resources Board from enforcing the programme, which requires that 10% of cars sold in the state by the six biggest makers emit almost no pollution from the tailpipe or from petrol evaporation, Bloomberg News said.

Among the amendments, California would delay the programme’s start until 2005 from 2003, halve the required number of pollution- free cars, such as electric-battery or fuel-cell vehicles, and make it easier for companies to comply by offering more hybrid- electric cars, according to the proposal, the news agency said.

According to Bloomberg News, a General Motors spokesman declined to say whether the changes would affect the company’s suit with DaimlerChrysler, filed with a US district court in Fresno, California, in January 2002, that alleged the state’s emissions programme attempted to regulate fuel economy, violating the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 that permits only the federal government to set such standards.

All references to fuel economy have been removed in the latest version of the plan, first proposed in 1990, Air Board spokesman Jerry Martin told Bloomberg.
The news agency noted that California since the early 1970s has had federal permission to set automotive exhaust rules that exceed national standards because of persistent air-quality problems, particularly in Southern California. The state accounts for more than 10% of US car sales and its rules can have a national impact.

“The rules have been simplified to some degree, and I think they show we’ve addressed some of the (automakers’) concerns,” Martin told Bloomberg News. “Obviously we hope this encourages them to drop their lawsuits so we can move ahead with a programme that improves air quality.”