Gas-Powered Cars Could Soon Become Exception, Not Rule, in California

State clean air chief wants nearly 100% Zero-Emission Vehicles by 2030.

by on Aug.10, 2015

The California Air Resources Board continues its push to zero emissions from vehicles by 2030, which means EV makers like Tesla could be big winners in California.

With gas prices plunging, clean air proponents are watching as sales of battery-based vehicles take a nosedive. But don’t tell that to Mary Nichols, the director of the powerful California Air Resources Board. Whether through financial incentives or fiat, Nichols expects to see nearly 100% of the cars sold in the Golden State by 2030 powered by batteries, hydrogen or some other clean source of energy.

California’s Zero-Emissions Vehicle, or ZEV, mandate, has already shaken up the automotive industry. This year, it sets a goal of having 2.7% of the vehicles sold in the state run on alternative power – just like the battery-powered Honda Fit Nichols herself drives.

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“If we’re going to get our transportation system off petroleum,” Nichols said in an interview with Bloomberg news service, “we’ve got to get people used to a zero-emissions world, not just a little-bit-better version of the world they have now.”

Due to its endemic smog problems, California was long ago granted authority to set its own automotive emissions standards and routinely exceeds the federal guidelines on traditional pollutants such as smog-causing ozone and oxides of nitrogen. In recent years, the Air Resources Board, or CARB, has also begun mandating the introduction of Zero-Emissions Vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S.

Despite affecting a relatively small number of vehicles, the ZEV mandate has been a major headache for automakers such as Fiat Chrysler who have to come up with vehicles that qualify. A year ago, CEO Sergio Marchionne pointed to the then-new Fiat 500e battery-car and told an audience in Washington, “I hope you don’t buy it.” The maker was expecting to lose about $14,000 for each one it sold.

The industry has flooded California with so-called “compliance cars,” vehicles that, cynics charge, were developed only to meet the mandate, even if that meant they’d lose money. A number of battery-cars are, in fact, available only in the Golden State – or the handful of other states that have copied the ZEV rules.

California alone isn’t driving the development of electric and hydrogen vehicles. Automakers also have to find ways to meet upcoming increases in the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard that will jump to 54.5 mpg by 2025. And Europe has set its own challenging carbon dioxide standards that will be tough for manufacturers to meet without much more extensive use of electrified drivetrains, whether hybrid, plug-ins or full battery-electric vehicles.

(Makers still focusing on lighter materials to meet tough CAFE standards. For more, Click Here.)

But as the recent slide in battery-car sales has shown, it’s tough to get consumers to change their ways, especially when fuel is cheap, even with lucrative state and federal incentives.

Exactly how the industry will pick up the pace of change is far from certain but, if CARB chief Nichols has her way, they’re going to have to do something to speed up the acceptance of alternative power. By 2025, the year the next big jump in CAFE takes effect, Nichols wants to see a full 22% of the vehicles sold in California use ZEV powertrains, and she is pushing for a virtually 100% changeover by 2025.

(Click Here for details about how EV owners are paying more, but getting less.)

The environmental leader isn’t operating in a vacuum. CARB would need to meet that stringent target to bring the auto industry into compliance with a broader mandate from California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has set an executive order of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.

Most automakers are fast expanding their battery-based product lines. Those that don’t have the right technology – as is the problem for Fiat Chrysler – could face serious problems. Falling short of the mandate could result in a company being effectively shut out of the state’s huge automotive market.

(To more about the California initiative searching for a battery breakthrough, Click Here.)

That’s just fine with some manufacturers, Tesla Motors no surprise. “Our bet is the whole industry will go electric eventually,” said CEO Elon Musk, during a conference call earlier this month. “They won’t have much choice.”

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9 Responses to “Gas-Powered Cars Could Soon Become Exception, Not Rule, in California”

  1. Jorge says:

    The good news is you don’t always get what you want or demand. There is no way on earth that CA will have 100% emission free autos by 2030. The talking heads can make all kinds of rules but the voting public can remove the clueless from office and rescind the unacceptable laws they imposed.

  2. preuser says:

    ^^^^^ what he said

  3. GT101 says:

    Good luck with that extortion.

  4. veh says:

    The law may be unpleasant, but California has deep and scary issues with smog. At some point, government HAS TO step in for the greater good.

    Individuals will do what they perceive is best for them, not necessarily society (see: tragedy of the commons). Government should be concerned with the bigger picture.

    • Jorge says:

      CA has had smog issues for decades and they will continue to have smog issues for centuries to come. There are numerous causes of the smog including industry, high population density and drugs from Mexico.

      Don’t ever count on a politician to do what is right for society or you’re likely to be disappointed. Politicians do what’s best for #1 and that is not the populace. Talking trash to get reelected or taking bribe money commonly called PAC money is just the selling of services and political power. It’s the oldest profession in the world.

      You’re absolutely right that government should be concerned about the bigger picture but they are not. Like Obama shilling for the EV makers and punishing clean Diesel sellers, even though EVs are impractical for 99% of the world, corrupt governments everywhere pander to PAC/bribe money. You can bet that some corporations have a vested interest in eliminating traditional autos. I wonder who those companies might be? Perhaps it’s the same folks who are trying to sell sand to the Arabs.

  5. PCz911 says:

    CARB are not elected officials. They are appointed and beholden to no one. California is a one party system and acts in much a similar way as the peoples republic of China. We’ve gone past cleaning up smog, now we’re into political agendas.

    • Jorge says:

      I think CA has been into political agendas for many, many decades. LOL See Hollywood for an example.

  6. Mike says:

    So true. But it can only get worse. Following the rapprochement with Cuba, tens of thousands of tutone 1956 Chevrolet Bel Airs retrofitted with belching Bulgarian tractor engines will shortly be broken down roadside on California highways.

    • Jorge says:

      They might make it as far as Florida but I doubt they’d make it to CA unless shipped there. They could be trucked to CA and used for a tourist attraction. LOL

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