WASHINGTON – California on Wednesday announced an aggressive plan to impose a steady increase in sales of electric and zero-emission vehicles, the first step towards implementing the nation’s first goal to ban new gasoline-powered cars by 2035.
Under a proposed rule issued by the California Air Resources Council, the state will require 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold in the state by 2026 to be powered by batteries or hydrogen. Less than a decade later, the state expects 100 percent of all new car sales to be exempt from emissions of fossil fuels, which are primarily responsible for global warming.
That would mean a big leap. Currently, 12.4% of new vehicles sold in California have zero emissions, according to the board.
If the board finalizes the plan in August, it could set the bar for the national car industry. California is the largest automotive market in the United States and the 10th largest in the world. In addition, 15 other states – including New York, Massachusetts and North Carolina – have previously followed California’s action on tailpipe emissions and may accept similar proposals.
Critical year for electric vehicles
The popularity of battery-powered cars is growing worldwide, even as the entire car market stagnates.
“This is extremely important,” said Daniel Sperling, a member of the California Aviation Board and director of the Institute for Transportation Research at the University of California, Davis. He said the proposed rule, which he said was expected to be adopted, was sending a signal to the global car market.
“Other countries and other states are watching what California is doing,” he said. “And so it will resonate around the world.”
The proposal comes as President Biden’s climate agenda fluctuates. Last year, Mr Biden signed an executive order calling on the government to try to ensure that half of all vehicles sold in the United States will be electric by 2030. Legislation that will help make this transition by allocating billions of dollars for tax incentives for electric vehicles, however, was stagnant in the Senate. Meanwhile, under pressure to ease high gas prices, the president is urging oil companies to drill more oil.
Automakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the proposed California rule. In a joint statement last year, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the car company formed this year after the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, announced their “shared drive” to achieve sales of 40 to 50 percent of electric vehicles nationwide by 2030.
But they need state support and a “full set of electrification policies” to put the aspirations into action, they write.
Transportation is the largest single source of greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions in California.
The proposed California rule enforces an executive order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020. According to the plan, 35 percent of new cars and vans sold should have zero emissions by 2026. This will increase to 68 percent in 2030. and up to 100% in 2035. The plan allows 20% of new sales to be plug-in hybrids.
According to air pollution regulators in California, the rule will eliminate 384 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions between 2026 and 2040 – more than the state emits from all sources in 2019.
“These emission reductions will help stabilize the climate and reduce the risk of severe drought and forest fires and subsequent pollution with fine dust particles,” the state plan said.
The environmental groups were divided over the plan. Don Anner, deputy director of the clean transport program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the measure had improved on a previous project. He called it “the most important climate decision” that the California Air Resources Board will take this year.
But Scott Hochberg, a transport lawyer with the Center for Biodiversity, accused California of taking a “slow path” and in a statement called on the state to stop selling gas-powered vehicles five years earlier, by 2030.
Mr Sperling noted that several challenges remained, including building vehicle charging stations and persuading consumers to buy electric vehicles. He said the last 20 to 30 per cent would be the most difficult part of the transition and would likely require new policies and incentives.
“We can’t get people vaccinated,” he said. “Why do we think we can make them buy an electric car?” This means that we will have to be creative to make these vehicles attractive and captivating to consumers, even beyond and beyond their inherent attributes.