Musk and Environmentalists Want Changes in California Clean Vehicle Programs

While California’s clean vehicle programs have put it far in the lead for electric car sales, alarms are being sounded about them weakening and hurting future sales.

Environment groups – and Tesla CEO Elon Musk – say that California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program won’t come close to hitting Gov. Jerry Brown’s goals of having at least 1.5 million emissions-free vehicles on roads by 2025.

California has seen about 223,700 all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids sold in the state since late 2010, which makes for 46 percent of plug-in electrified vehicles sold in the U.S. Yet it’s less than one percent of all cars registered in California.

Musk recently attacked the California Air Resource Board (CARB) for weakening automaker ZEV incentives for manufacturing zero emission vehicles.

Environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council says the state will only be seeing sales of about one million clean cars by 2025, one third less than the governor’s goal. NRDC would also like to see the ZEV program tweaked, but not in a way that benefits Tesla Motors more than it places more PEVs on California roads.

“The program is in dire need of a tuneup,” said Simon Mui, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s clean-vehicle efforts in California. “It won’t be delivering as many vehicles as the state wants.”

Tesla has benefited greatly from the ZEV program. In the first quarter of this year alone, it made $57 million from selling ZEV credits to other carmakers. As Tesla prepares to increase production at its Fremont, Calif., plant to one million cars per year by 2020, other automakers can buy more credits from Tesla and build as many gas-powered cars as they want to.

“One automaker, like Tesla, could generate so many credits that nobody else would have to do much of anything,” Mui said. “You could see Tesla very easily blowing the requirement out of the water.”

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CARB is aware of the concerns and is considering making changes. The agency will be discussing the ZEV program’s future at a hearing in December.

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood, introduced legislation this month that would have forced every automaker to ensure that by 2025, at least 15 percent of all cars they sold in California would produce no emissions. Burke’s bill was heavily opposed by automakers and died out.

Other proposals have focused on the way CARB calculates the credits. Some ZEV advocates are concerned that credits for plug-in hybrids will be going away and only all-electric and fuel-cell vehicles will qualify.

Automakers are more concerned with California’s popular clean-vehicle rebate program fading away. The popular incentive program featuring carpool lane (HOV) bumper stickers ran out of funding in June, and so far hasn’t been renewed in Sacramento.

John Bozzella, CEO of the lobbying group Global Automakers, thinks the state should be allocating more rebates to buy clean cars. He would like to see the state allocate more stickers allowing people to drive solo on California’s carpool lanes while driving an all-electric, plug-in hybrid, or fuel-cell vehicle.

“While we’re focused on the nuts and bolts of the ZEV mandate, I get concerned that we’re losing sight of the bigger picture,” Bozzella said. “It’s not enough to count credits. We need to build markets.”

CARB still sees its program essential for moving ZEV adoption forward. It’s been recognized by seven other states that have agreed to adopt the ZEV program.

“The fundamental goal of our regulation is to encourage innovation in electric vehicles, and that is happening,” said Joshua Cunningham, chief of sustainable transportation technology for the board.

San Francisco Chronicle