It's one thing to be an environmentalist, but it's another to be forced into selling alternative-fuel vehicles that are too expensive and too impractical for most consumers. That's what is facing California dealers — and auto manufacturers.

The Golden State's energy and pollution woes are well documented. The energy issue may not be resolved for many years but the California Air Resources Board (CARB) decided to take the pollution bull by the horns and mandate that at least 2% of vehicles sold in the state in 1998 be zero-emission vehicles (ZEV). The mandate ramps up to 16% by 2018.

General Motors and other manufacturers put electric cars onto the market to mixed reviews.

The most limiting factors, however, are the approximately 90-miles they get per charge and the limited number of charging stations available. They also are expensive, if the government or the manufacturer isn't subsidizing them. They are not adaptable to cold climates. And, what with California's current electric energy shortages, they might be unsuitable there, warm weather aside.

“They want us to sell vehicles that don't use gasoline,” explains H.F. “Bert” Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Ford in North Hills, CA. “But who wants to buy them? You saw what GM did with electric cars.”

Mr. Boeckmann leased more than 100 GM EV1s through his Saturn dealership. He is somewhat of an environmentalist himself, being named a “Hero of the Planet” by Ford Motor Co. for delivering some 20 tons of seed to Russian farmers, as well as medical supplies for Moscow's less fortunate citizens.

“It seems like (CARB) is looking at how to revise (the mandate),” says Mr. Boeckmann. “There is nothing that is commercially viable. These vehicle are cost-prohibitive.”

The board amended its stance in January. Still, manufacturers are required to make zero-emission vehicles 10% of their product offerings in California starting in 2003, but reductions will be allowed in the number of ZEVs if they produce other kinds of “very clean advanced technology vehicles.”

Such vehicles include a variety of alternate fuel cars and trucks and those with fuel cells and other advanced systems.