(Adds automaker comments, three more states joining the effort)
By David Shepardson
NEW YORK, March 28 (Reuters) - Seven U.S. states and 16 major automakers are launching a joint $1.5 million advertising campaign to prod Americans to buy electric vehicles.
Automakers are investing billions of dollars to develop dozens of new EVs in the face of regulatory requirements, but face slow U.S. sales.
General Motors Co, Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp and many other companies, along with Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The campaign, dubbed "Drive Change. Drive Electric," will focus on the benefits of electric cars.
"Far too many drivers remain unfamiliar with the benefits of driving electric. Increasing sales of electric cars will deliver critical environmental and economic benefits across the region,” said Arthur Marin, executive director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management.
Electric vehicle sales rose 25 percent in 2017 to a new record but still account for only 1.2 percent of U.S. vehicle sales.
The campaign will initially focus in the northeast region and includes a website, advertising, social media, strategic partnerships and events and other content efforts.
John Bozzella, who heads Global Automakers, a trade group whose members include Toyota, Hyundai Motor Co and Honda Motor Co, said more education efforts are needed as automakers offer dozens of EV models.
"The companies are effectively ahead of the customer," Bozzella said in an interview. "We need to collectively help tell the story of the benefits of this technology and raise awareness."
Automakers are rapidly investing in EVs and say they plan to unveil dozens of new EVs in the coming years. They point to the growing range of EVs to travel on a single charge, lower battery costs and more recharging stations as all making the vehicles more attractive to customers.
Joe Eberhardt, president and chief executive officer of Jaguar Land Rover North America, said in an interview at the auto show that companies must focus on consumer demand not regulatory mandates. "We need as an industry to find a way to convince customers that there is a real benefit and advantage to having an electric vehicle," he said.
In January, Ford Motor Co said it would double its electrified vehicle spending. Reuters reported that global automakers plan to invest $90 billion in batteries and electric cars in the coming years, an amount that is still growing.
Investments in electrified vehicles announced to date include at least $19 billion by automakers in the United States, $21 billion in China and $52 billion in Germany.
Automakers also are reacting to pressure from regulators in Europe and California to slash carbon emissions from fossil fuels and mandates from California to sell a rising number of zero-emission vehicles." (Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Leslie Adler)