California Leads The EV Revolution

California has been a beacon for American culture since the days of the gold rush. It came to symbolize America’s notion of Manifest Destiny with its promise of endless prosperity waiting at the end of Route 66. In the 50s, it became an avatar for America’s car culture, with its promise of freedom to drive anywhere at any time, memorialized by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airman as they piloted their Hot Rod Lincoln up Grapevine Hill.

But the car craze also resulted in some negatives — unending traffic, gridlock, and smog that hung over Los Angeles for weeks on end. The air above the corridors from the ports in southern California to inland distribution centers has become so toxic with diesel exhaust fumes from tractor trailers that it is poisonous to humans.

In 1967, the California Air Resources Board was created to address the pollution from all those cars and trucks. Since then, it has been a leader in promoting more fuel efficient vehicles with lower emissions. One could say the Toyota Prius exists because of the policies put in place by CARB. While automakers have often resisted those regulations, California’s new car market is the largest in the US — and larger than some countries. It is the tail that wags the dog. Today, 14 states are committed to following the emissions standards promulgated by CARB. Together, they make up about a third of all new car sales in America.

As Henry Ford taught us, standardization is the key to profits in manufacturing. That’s why just about every Model T ever made was black. It costs automakers money to make vehicles that meet two different sets of rules, and so complying with the exhaust emissions standards established by CARB has become the default position for the industry.

California Will Go All Electric By 2035

The big news out of California this week is a decision by CARB to prohibit the sale of cars, SUVs, and light trucks with internal combustion engines starting on January 1, 2035. The rule also sets interim targets. It requires 35% of new passenger vehicles sold by 2026 to have zero emissions. The target ratchets up to 68% by 2030.

Governor Gavin Newsom told the press this week the new rule is “one of the most significant steps to the elimination of the tailpipe as we know it. It’s ambitious, it’s innovative, it’s the action we must take if we’re serious about leaving this planet better off for future generations. California will continue to lead the revolution towards our zero emission transportation future.”

Liane Randolph, chair of the California Air Resources Board, added that the new policy means “a more than 50 percent reduction in pollution from cars and light trucks by 2040” and will move the state closer to a time when there will be no vehicle emissions at all.

Let’s unpack this announcement. The best selling vehicle in California is the Ford F-150 pickup truck. A little over 12 years from now, every F-150 that Ford sells in California will come from the factory with no gasoline or diesel engine. That’s quite a shift in a fairly short time. Does it mean that people will start buying F-250s instead? Possibly, although CARB has set tough emissions standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles as well. It proposes to require all buses and commercial vans to have zero emissions by 2045.

Praise & Pushback

“This will help to accelerate the transition and give a signal that customers and states are ready for this transition to occur rapidly,” said Kathy Harris, clean vehicles and fuels advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This is a really exciting announcement.” Lauren Sanchez, senior climate adviser to Newsom, called the proposal “one of the most important efforts California has ever carried out to move the state away from oil and clean the air.”

“It is a big deal,” said Scott Hochberg, transportation attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. But he cautioned that the state could still be moving faster, and that “we would have liked to see the rule go much further.” Among its shortcomings, he said, are a lack of incentives for low income communities and standards lowering emissions from internal combustion engines sold before the 2035 deadline that don’t go far enough. “The rule needed to react to the urgency of the moment, but it fell short.”

However, The Verge reports that the governor is prepared to make the necessary investments to spur the shift to EVs, including $10 billion in vehicle incentives, charging infrastructure, and public outreach over the next six years. The state is paying low income residents up to $9,500 to trade in a gas-powered car for an EV. It also offers a $7,000 incentive for any resident who buys or leases an electric car.

“Despite this positive trend, California’s EV sale mandates are still very aggressive — even in California with decades of supportive EV policies — and will be extremely challenging,” said John Bozzella, president and chief executive of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the trade group representing carmakers. “That’s just a fact.”

How Aggressive Is The New California Policy?

Reactionaries, predictably, will be vehemently opposed to this new policy from California. There will be unlimited weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth on Faux News. However, is the new policy really that aggressive? In January of 2021, we reported that there are 31 nations, states, and cities that proposed to ban the sale of cars and trucks with internal combustion engines.

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Credit: Charged Future

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Image credit: Charged Future

Since then, the list has only grown. The European Union has approved an ICE ban by 2035 that is very similar to the action just taken by CARB. Even the tiny Australian Capitol Territory has enacted a similar ban. The State of Washington plans to set 2030 as the phase-out date for passenger vehicles with infernal combustion engines and the State of New York has also pledged to end ICE sales by 2035. So let’s not get all gaga about what California is doing. It is just part of a much larger trend.

In the final analysis, such bans may not even be necessary. Volkswagen has decided to stop selling passenger cars with internal combustion engines in Norway two full years sooner than required by that country’s policies. The free market is doing what policy makers want even sooner than the rule and regulations mandate.

The transition to electric vehicles will be messy and not everyone will be happy about it. Deal with and get over it. The world is on fire from the Arctic to Antarctica. If we don’t act decisively now, most of us won’t be around to act at all in the foreseeable future. The danger is great and the time to end the use of fossil fuels is now. Let’s go people. We can do this!


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