The California Air Resources Board’s decision came two years after Gov. Gavin Newsom first directed regulators to consider such a policy. If the goal is reached, California would cut car emissions in half by 2040.
The measure gives the most populous state in the US the strictest regulations in the world for the transition to electric vehicles. It is hoped that it will prompt other states to follow California’s example and speed automakers’ production of zero-emission vehicles.
Board member Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, called the vote “the most important and transformative action” the air board has ever taken.
The policy still needs federal approval but is considered highly likely under Democratic President Joe Biden. It allows Californians to continue to drive gasoline-powered vehicles and purchase used vehicles after 2035, but no new models will be sold in the state.
A fifth of automakers’ sales after 2035 could be plug-in hybrids, which run on batteries and gasoline, but the rest must run solely on electricity or hydrogen.
In June, the European Parliament backed a plan to effectively ban the sale of gasoline and diesel cars in the 27-nation European Union by 2035, with Canada mandating the sale of zero-emission cars by the same year.
California climate officials say the state’s new policy is the most ambitious in the world because it sets benchmarks for increasing electric vehicle sales over the next 13 years.
The first mandatory threshold comes in 2026, when a third of all vehicles sold in the state must be zero-emissions. Automakers could be fined US$20,000 ($28,654) per vehicle sold below that goal.
About 16 percent of cars sold in California in the first three months of this year were electric. The air board is working on separate emissions rules for motorcycles and diesel trucks.
Washington state and Massachusetts have already said they will follow California’s lead, and many more are likely to do so: New York and Pennsylvania are among the 17 states that have adopted some or all of California’s tailpipe emissions standards. California that are more stringent than the federal standards.
Kia Corp’s Laurie Holmes said the company plans to spend $25 billion ($35.82 billion) by 2025 on electric vehicles and expects to offer seven models by 2027.
But she and several other auto company representatives raised concerns about the state’s schedule due to factors including supply chain challenges and the high cost of materials to build electric cars.
“Automakers could have significant difficulty meeting this target given elements outside of the industry’s control,” he said.
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Switching from gasoline to electric cars will drastically reduce emissions and air pollutants. Transportation is the single largest source of emissions in the state, accounting for about 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. But the transition will be painful for the state’s oil industry. California remains the seventh-largest oil-producing state in the US, though its output is falling as it moves toward climate goals.
California shouldn’t wrap its entire transportation strategy around an electric-powered vehicle market, said Tanya DeRivi, vice president for climate policy at the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group.
“Californians should be able to choose a vehicle technology, including electric vehicles, that best suits their needs based on availability, affordability and personal need,” he said.
California is the most populous state in the nation, with around 39 million people. They make up 10 percent of the US car market, but hold 43 percent of the 2.6 million registered plug-in vehicles in the country, according to the air board.
Reaching the 100 percent target by 2035 will mean overcoming very practical hurdles, notably enough reliable power and charging stations.
California now has about 80,000 stations in public places, far short of the 250,000 it wants by 2025. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents many of the major automakers, has warned of a lack of infrastructure, access to materials needed to make batteries and supply. chain issues are among the challenges in meeting the state’s schedule.
The new commitment came as California works to maintain reliable electricity while moving away from gas-fired power plants in favor of solar, wind and other cleaner energy sources. Earlier this year, California’s top energy officials warned that the state could lose power during the hottest days of summer, which happened briefly in August 2020.
That hasn’t happened yet this year. But Newsom, a Democrat, is pushing to keep the state’s last remaining nuclear plant open beyond its planned 2025 shutdown, and the state can turn to diesel generators or natural gas plants for backup when the power grid is overloaded.
Adding more car chargers will put more demand on the power grid.
Ensuring access to charging stations is also key to increasing electric vehicle sales. The infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year provides $5 billion ($7.16 billion) for states to build chargers every 50 miles (80 km) along interstate highways.
Meanwhile, Newsom has pledged to spend billions to boost sales of zero-emission vehicles, including adding chargers in low-income neighborhoods. New rules approved by the air board say vehicles must be able to travel 150 miles (241 km) on a single charge.
Driving an electric vehicle long distances today, even in California, requires careful planning about where to stop and charge, said Mary Nichols, former chair of the California Air Resources Board. Money from the state and federal government will go a long way toward boosting that infrastructure and making electric cars a more convenient option, she said.
“This is going to be a transformation process and the mandate for the sale of vehicles is only part of it,” he said.
Although hydrogen is a fuel option under new regulations, cars powered by fuel cells have accounted for less than one percent of car sales in recent years.
Both the state and federal governments have thousands of dollars in rebates to offset the cost of buying electric cars, and the rules include incentives for automakers to make used electric vehicles available to low- and middle-income people.
Over the past 12 years, California has provided more than $1 billion ($1.43 billion) in rebates for the sale of 478,000 electric, plug-in or hybrid vehicles, according to the air board.