One hundred percent of car sales will be zero emission vehicles in 2050. That’s the vision of the California Air Resources Board, explained in a meeting in late October to review the state’s zero emission vehicle (ZEV) strategy. At the meeting, the agency outlined the roadmap for getting there.

What’s the basis of the CARB plan? It’s not an estimate of how rapidly ZEV technologies like battery and fuel cell-powered vehicles are likely to develop. Nor is it based on likely prices, or expected market acceptance, of those cars and trucks. Instead the agency calculated where the statewide vehicle fleet should be to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets in 2050. Then it worked backwards to the present to factor how quickly these nascent technologies would have to grow.

The Roadmap

Three easy steps:

  • Current hybrid vehicles—currently about 4 percent of the market—need to grow to 40 percent of the market in the next 10 years, and then taper off, completely disappearing in 2040.
  • Plug-in hybrids—promoted as a solution by Al Gore, ex-CIA director Jim Woolsey, many others—will be introduced next year and will rapidly rise to 40 percent of the market by the mid-2030s.
  • Zero emission electric and fuel cell vehicles will be introduced over the next five years and rapidly accelerate to become 100 percent of the new vehicle market by 2050.

This scenario also assumes the state will shift to low carbon biofuels, as well as shifting mostly to renewable sources to produce electricity.

The only problem with this aggressive “base scenario” for our automotive future—other than ignoring market and technology realities—is that it isn’t good enough to get the state to its greenhouse gas goals. So CARB staff created a “faster scenario” that triples the adoption rate of zero emission vehicles to 30 percent of sales by 2025. That’s a quantum leap above current mandated levels.

The CARB roadmap reveals how difficult it will be to achieve the state’s ambitious goals—especially after failing to enforce its 1990 mandate for 10 percent of California’s new vehicles to be zero emission by 2003.