New California Law Mandates Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles

In a unanimous ruling Friday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) called for a steep ramping up of zero- or very low-emission vehicles sold in state from 2018-onward. The goal is for them to comprise 15.4 percent of all vehicles sold by 2025 – up from less than 1 percent today.

At the same time, the ruling called for a slashing of tailpipe emissions from the rest of the passenger vehicle population beginning sooner in 2015 and extending through 2025.

Described as a “historic” decision by board Chairwoman Mary D. Nichols, California’s vision for its “advanced clean car rules” actually extends 38 years into the future, and is intended to complement if not amplify pending federal emissions and mpg rules being set by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

“Today’s vote to adopt the package of clean-cars standards represents a new chapter in California and the nation,” said Nichols.

Although California has been known to modify such dictates on the fly to keep expectations within reason, the board estimates annual “clean car” sales will increase to approximately 1.4 million in state by 2025. Of these, 500,000 would be battery-electric or fuel-cell vehicles, with the balance being plug-in vehicles that qualify as transitional zero-emission vehicles.

Taking effect sooner is the mandate to slash emissions from gasoline and diesel automobiles, SUVs, minivans and pickups. Effective from 2015-onward are to be incremental cuts in smog-forming emissions leading to 75-percent reduction by 2025 and for this same period, decreasing of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent.

In her quote above, Nichols said the new rules are a “new chapter” also for “the nation” because California swings an especially big stick, and knows it. Its emissions standards have in past years been mirrored by Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Thus far, 10 of these states including New York and New Jersey have said they intend to adopt the latest California standards, and this could mean that state mandates will call for more than 3 million “clean cars” by 2025.

In previous years California’s emissions guidelines have effectively created a second set of standards alongside federal emissions guidelines.

This time around, California’s regulators collaborated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 13 automakers, and other stakeholders so when federal CAFE rules pass later this year, they will match to create one national emissions standard.

Although California’s new rules are not without critics, opposition appears to be less than it has been for its previous environmental mandates which have included now universal facts of automotive life such as catalytic converters and use of unleaded gasoline.

Some automakers expressed concerns for the latest rules, particularly about the ultra-clean car stipulation, while most have said they will go along.

For their part, American post-bankruptcy automakers General Motors and Chrysler could not directly oppose even if they wanted to. As a condition of federally assisted restructuring, GM and Chrysler agreed to not sue California to block any new rules.

These manufacturers, as well as Ford, have expressed concerns as to the marketability of zero emissions vehicles, but are not known to be working behind the scenes to overturn CARB’s new rules.

Ford and GM especially are acknowledged to be well advanced on the curve with qualified vehicles either in production or on the way.

CARB’s emissions rules differ from federal rules in that CAFE stipulates emissions plus fuel efficiency at “54.5 mpg” which winds up being in the low 40s on the sticker.

Note California’s tighter guidelines include not just gas and diesel cars, but also larger vehicles including pickups and SUVs. Although these rules pertain to emissions, they will also effectively speak to vehicles’ mpg.

Fact is, a large part of engineering tweaks to decrease emissions involves increasing mpg.
What is more clear is motivation behind what critics might describe as activist regulators in California – who are also sympathetic with sensibilities held by European regulators and those in the Obama administration – is all about reducing oil usage.

“The steady drumbeat of the need to get off the dependence on petroleum is really what is driving this,” said Nichols. “It’s taken longer than we’ve hoped.”

CARB’s 9-to-0 vote in favor of stricter mandates has heartened its members that they are using their position to leverage broad policy ramifications.

The program actually goes beyond federal goals that look to 2025, and projects all the way to 2050. CARB’s actions on Friday thus ambitiously set the foundation for a goal to see 87 percent of the state’s new vehicles propelled by electricity, hydrogen fuel cells or other clean technologies by mid century.

“This regulation is planned over a 40-year horizon, and that is extremely unusual,” said board spokesman David Clegern. “But it gives us time to put the pieces in place with no surprises. The individual companies can plan for changes and develop the technology, and over the long haul, it will shift us away from reliance on petroleum.”

So if California gets its way, it has effectively given notice to OPEC and other foreign oil producers that the day is coming when their products will no longer be required.

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  • MrEnergyCzar

    I always am skeptical that the big business/money interests will reverse these later on….should be interesting to see if they hold. Thanks Jeff.


  • Dom

    I still don’t understand how they can mandate sales…

    “The goal is for them to comprise 15.4 percent of all vehicles sold by 2025 – up from less than 1 percent today.”

    I can understand mandating availability, but they can’t force consumers to buy something… at least I sure hope they can’t.

  • kuldeep singh

    nice post and i also don’t understand why sales..?

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