Updated March 31 at 10:09pm

Diesels to fuel cells join spotlight dimming on plug-ins

With U.S. sales of plug-in electric vehicles on pace to reach half of President Barack Obama’s goal, regulators are following customers and automakers to vehicles powered by other fuels, from hydrogen to diesel. More

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Diesels to fuel cells join spotlight dimming on plug-ins

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WASHINGTON – With U.S. sales of plug-in electric vehicles on pace to reach half of President Barack Obama’s goal, regulators are following customers and automakers to vehicles powered by other fuels, from hydrogen to diesel.

California – which leads 10 states including Rhode Island and Massachusetts that require automakers to sell zero-emission vehicles – may alter its system of tradable credits to stop favoring plug-ins over hydrogen-powered cars. That would hurt Tesla Motors Inc. while helping Honda Motor Co.

Obama, who touted electric cars in his first State of the Union address and gave $5 billion in U.S. loans, grants and tax breaks to spur their development, hasn’t mentioned them in public since July. His administration halted loans for their development and reversed moves to de-emphasize fuel cells.

“I don’t think they should just pick technologies that they say or feel may be better,” Audi of America President Scott Keogh, who’s seeking more favorable regulatory treatment for clean diesel, said in an interview.

Automakers that sell vehicles in the U.S. must double their vehicles’ average fuel economy by 2025 under rules Obama adopted. The target is considered impossible to achieve just by improving the gasoline engine.

Auto-industry executives surveyed by Booz & Co. and Bloomberg LP predicted vehicles running on electricity and other alternative powertrains would account for 20 percent of sales by 2020 – unless the government stopped its support, in which case their predicted share fell to 12 percent.

Fisker, Tesla

Obama in 2009 set a goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee announced in October that Rhode Island had joined an eight-state initiative to put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the roads in their states by 2025.

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