LOS ANGELES — Buy a car in California in 2035 and you won’t have to choose between petrol, diesel or electric. You will have no choice.
Citing the urgent need to tackle climate change while reducing air pollution, the California Air Resources Board voted Thursday to require all new cars and light trucks sold by 2035 to be zero-emission vehicles.
Lauren Sanchez, Governor Gavin Newsom’s climate adviser, called it “a great day, not just for California, but for the whole world.”
The mission, she said, “Move the state away from oil.”
The move marks a historic turn in the decades-long battle to curb motor vehicle pollution, a major shift for consumers, industry, the economy and the environment.
California has led the nation in automotive emissions regulations since CARB was founded in 1966 to combat the toxic tawny smog that hung over Los Angeles. The state’s large population meant that automakers could not ignore the state’s mandates. Congress authorized California the same year to enact its own rules under the Federal Air Quality Act. California’s emissions and fuel efficiency regulations have been passed by more than a dozen other states.
Even with that astonishing record, the zero-emissions mandate is “the most important and transformative action CARB has ever taken,” said Dan Sperling, founder and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.
The mandate forces automakers to phase out gasoline and diesel cars, SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks in favor of cleaner versions powered by batteries or fuel cells.
If automakers fall short, they could be charged $20,000 per non-compliant car, CARB said. If the consumer does not go along? That can cause major problems. But state officials think so, and the trendline gives confidence.
Electric cars are rapidly gaining popularity in California. In 2012, less than 2% of new vehicles sold were electric. That grew to 7% in 2018.
But since then, demand has skyrocketed, and now 16% of new cars sold in the state are plug-in vehicles—electrically powered by Tesla, spearheaded by Tesla; plug-in hybrid vehicles; and a few cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells. There are now 1.13 million zero-emission vehicles registered in California, according to CARB – 43% of the nation’s total.
Once considered little more than glorified golf carts with meager ranges, electric cars can now travel hundreds of miles on a single charge, in models that range from small commuter cars to luxury vehicles to SUVs, pickup trucks and muscle cars.
Under the new rules, 35% of new cars must be emission-free by 2026, 68% by 2030 and 100% by 2035.
People could still buy internal combustion engine cars from another state. But many states, including most of its neighbors, tend to follow California’s lead on vehicle emissions policies and consider their own mandates.
The effects of the 2035 mandate will be far-reaching, CARB said. It “will essentially end vehicle emissions,” CARB chairman Liane Randolph told reporters.
Not quite. As Randolph himself pointed out, owners of cars with an internal combustion engine can continue to drive them after 2035. It will still be legal to buy and sell used fossil fuel cars and light trucks.
The mandate also does not cover all road transport. Heavy trucks running on diesel fuel will get an additional 10 years before being banned. A proposed zero-emission mandate for heavy trucks would not reach 100% until 2045.
Yet CARB’s vote marks a turning point in climate change policy.
Air quality officials say the new regulations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars by more than 50% by 2040, compared to if no action were taken. Exhaust emissions are the leading source of carbon dioxide in California, accounting for about 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.
In addition, state officials say the plan would reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides by more than 25% by 2037. They estimate the rule will lead to more than 1,400 fewer deaths from heart disease.
Automakers have taken different stances on the mandate, ranging from enthusiastic to lukewarm to outright opposition.
Ford, which recently introduced its all-electric pickup F-150 Lightning, has worked closely with CARB.
In an official statement, the automaker said that “fighting climate change is a strategic priority” and that the company is “proud of our partnership with California for stricter vehicle emissions standards, forged at a time when climate action was under fire.”
Toyota, which had placed big bets on its hybrid cars and lagged behind all-electric development, admitted to its opposition and earlier this week sent CARB a letter acknowledging its authority to set emission standards for vehicles. The company had sided with the Trump administration over vehicle emissions.
Some environmental groups said the mandate does not go far enough. Regina Hsu, a senior associate attorney for Earthjustice, noted that countries including Norway and the Netherlands have more ambitious timelines, and even Washington state has a plan to phase out new gas cars by 2030, although Governor Jay Inslee’s commitment is not binding. is.
“The driveway we see is not as strict as it could be,” Hsu said. “Based on car manufacturers’ forecasts, this rule is not that ambitious.”
But the transition to electric vehicles will not be easy and major uncertainties remain.
The cost is one. An electric car still costs much more than a comparable petrol car. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average EV sold for $66,000 in July, compared to $48,000 for the average international combustion vehicle.
In a presentation to reporters, CARB officials pointed to studies showing that savings on fuel and maintenance can make an EV a better financial deal over time, and that prices would continue to fall.
However, that is not certain. Supply chain problems and shortages of critical battery materials such as lithium and cobalt have reduced the availability of EVs and increased the purchase price.
As the costs of electric cars remain high, green-minded politicians are feeling the pressure to offer incentives. The $369 billion climate package recently passed by Congress includes a significant increase in EV subsidies, including new incentives for used cars.
Charging is another problem. While homeowners can install their own EV charger in a garage, most people who live in condominiums and apartments don’t have that option. The state plans to require multi-family landlords to charge electric cars in some way, but the details are still being worked out.
Last year’s federal infrastructure legislation included billions of dollars for the installation of public fast chargers on highways at regular intervals.
As part of the California mandate, the state will require specific levels of warranty protection for EV batteries and related components. According to Randolph, that will not only protect new car buyers, but also ensure that reliable used EVs become available.
“We understand that not everyone can buy a new car,” she said, pointing to several existing state programs that provide financial assistance to lower-income customers to purchase EVs.
Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Association, which represents more than 1,200 new car and truck franchisees, said the organization is “all-in” in the transition to zero-emission vehicles.
“We just want to make sure that as we move forward on this path, we are all working together to answer all of these questions,” he said.
The biggest challenge could be customer acceptance at 100% level. What happens if automakers can’t persuade enough customers to buy?
Said Jennifer Gress, head of the Sustainable Transportation and Communities Division at CARB, “We always reserve the right to change regulations at any time.”