California has announced a bold new initiative to move the EV revolution forward. Its Air Resources Board this week put forth a proposal that would eliminate the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars and light duty trucks by 2035, which is right in line with similar policies enacted by several of the world’s most progressive nations and few other states.
According to the New York Times, the new CARB initiative will require 35% of new passenger vehicles sold in the state by 2026 to be powered by batteries or hydrogen. Currently, 12.4% of new vehicles sold in California are zero emissions models. By 2035, all of those vehicles will need to be emissions-free. If CARB finalizes the plan in August, as it is expected to do, that could set the bar for the nation’s automobile industry. California is the largest auto market in the United States and the 10th largest in the world.
“This is tremendously important,” said Daniel Sperling, a member of California’s Air Resource Board and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. He said the proposed rule, which he said he expects to pass, sends a signal to the global auto market. “Other countries and other states, they watch what California does and so this will reverberate around the world.”
Automakers did not immediately respond to requests from the New York Times for comment about California’s proposed rule. In a joint statement last year, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, said they had a “shared aspiration” to achieve sales of 40 to 50% electric vehicles nationally by 2030. But they added they would need government support and a “full suite of electrification policies” to translate aspirations into action.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry group that speaks for most automakers who sell their products in the US, said in a statement reported by KGMI News that the industry is “committed to electrification and a net zero carbon transportation future,” but raised questions about the dramatic increase in the timetable. “Automakers will certainly work to meet whatever standards are eventually adopted, but these draft requirements will be extremely challenging even in California and may not be achievable in all the states that currently follow California’s program.”
California is the largest market for new vehicles in the United States, but it is not alone in calling for an end to fossil-fueled cars. The state of Washington recently set 2030 for the phase-out date for sales within its borders and the state of New York has already announced 2035 as its phase-out date.
The proposed rule tracks an executive order that Governor Gavin Newsom issued in 2020 which requires 35% of new cars and light trucks sold in California to have zero emissions starting in 2026. That will increase to 68% in 2030, and to 100% in 2035. The plan allows for 20% of new sales to be plug-in hybrids.
According to California air pollution regulators, the rule will eliminate 384 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions between 2026 and 2040 — more than the state emitted from all sources in 2019. “These emission reductions will help stabilize the climate and reduce the risk of severe drought and wildfire and its consequent fine particulate matter pollution,” the state plan says.
Delight & Despair
Environmental groups were divided over the plan. Don Anair, deputy director of the clean transportation program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the measure has improved compared to an earlier draft and called it the “most important climate decision” that California’s air resource board will make this year.
But Scott Hochberg, a transportation attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, accused California of taking “a slow road” and, in a statement, called for the state to end the sale of gas-powered vehicle sales five years earlier, by 2030. “Time is running out before the world as we know it disappears in the rearview mirror. To protect people and the planet, California has to free our streets from tailpipe pollution as fast as possible,” Hochberg said.
Sperling notes there will be several challenges, including building an adequate number of charging stations and persuading consumers to buy electric vehicles. He said the final 20 to 30% would be the hardest part of the transition and would very likely require new policies and incentives.
“We can’t get people to get vaccinated. Why do we think we can get them to buy an electric car? What that means is, we’re going to have to get creative about making these vehicles attractive and compelling to consumers even beyond and above its inherent attributes,” Sperling told the Times.
If you are a regular reader of CleanTechnica, you probably are an enthusiastic supporter of this new CARB policy, but there are certainly challenges ahead. We have heard for a decade that the prices of electric cars would be falling as economies of scale kick in, but the prices for new electric cars are rising instead. In addition, prices of the raw materials to make batteries are spiking and supply chain issues are making new EVs hard to find. To make matters worse, many auto dealers are taking advantage of shortages to gouge customers with absurd “market adjustment” add-ons to the sticker price of what cars are available.
As proactive as California is, other states are digging in their heels to slow down the EV revolution, like Oklahoma, which is considering legislation banning not only online sales but over-the-air updates as well. It is hard to believe there is that much stupidity in the world, but Oklahoma gave us the despicable Scott Pruitt, which should tell you all you need to know about the average intelligence of voters in the Sooner State.
Daniel Sperling is right. If people would rather die than get vaccinated (and many have), the likelihood that appealing to reason is going to move the needle on public acceptance of electric cars is pretty small. Any professional salesperson will tell you the three most important words in sales are “The price, the price, the price.” Once people see the value proposition swing solidly in favor of EVs, there will be a stampede for electric cars. (Widespread availability of public chargers will help as well.)
Policies are important, but affordable EVs are what the world needs most. That and car dealers who aren’t standing in the way of progress by promoting regressive policies like those foisted off on the public by the Oklahoma legislature. Some measure of sanity would be a big help, too.
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