New gasoline-powered cars will be banned in California from 2035 models under a new groundbreaking regulation passed unanimously today to force car owners to switch to zero-emission vehicles.
In its biggest step yet to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and fight climate change, the new rule approved by the state Air Resources Board culminates in a decades-long effort to transform the auto and energy industries and change the cars people drive — the state’s main source of air pollution.
The regulation is the world’s first to end sales of traditional gas-powered vehicles and increase sales of electric cars. A small number of other states and nations have only set voluntary targets.
The proposal was first unveiled in April. Responding to concerns from several board members, staff today made minor changes to address issues related to car battery life and added features to improve assistance to low-income residents.
“This ordinance is one of the most important efforts we have ever made to purify the air,” said Liane Randolph, chairman of the board of directors for Air Resources. “Our previous regulations to make cars cleaner have made improvements, but those improvements were incremental. This regulation will essentially end vehicle emissions.”
Automakers will have to gradually electrify their fleet of new vehicles, starting with 35% of 2026 models sold, rising to 68% by 2030 and 100% for 2035 models. From this year about 16% of all new car sales in California are zero-emission vehicles, double the share in 2020.
The millions of existing gas-powered cars already on the road and used car sales are unaffected by the mandate, which only sets a zero-emission standard for new models.
The move to zero-emission vehicles marks a historic precedent that would ripple across the country, paving the way for other states, and perhaps countries, to follow.
John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group that represents automakers, said automakers support the transition to electric cars, but called the timeline “very aggressive,” adding that it will be “extremely challenging” for the industry to adjust in time.
“Whether these requirements are realistic or achievable is directly related to external factors such as inflation, charging and fuel infrastructure, supply chains, labor, critical availability and pricing of minerals, and the ongoing shortage of semiconductors,” he said. “These are complex, intertwined and global issues that are beyond the control of the California Air Resources Board or the auto industry.”
Environmental justice advocates, who had called for a sales target of at least 75% zero-emission cars by 2030, expressed disappointment at today’s hearing. While the rule is a “step in the right direction,” the board has missed an opportunity to include more robust provisions in the policy to ensure low-income people can afford them, according to Roman Partida-Lopez, legal counsel. at the Greenlining Institute.
“California had a chance to set a stronger standard,” he said. “The board fell short by not making this a stricter rule or a rule with environmental justice provisions that are mandatory rather than voluntary.”
Governor Gavin Newsom today called it “a groundbreaking, industry-leading plan” that “will lead the revolution into our zero-emission transportation future.” He praised $10 billion in state investment that will make it “easier and cheaper for all Californians to buy electric cars.”
Concerns about affordability, sustainability
Electric cars are an attractive option for many families, but barriers keep them out of reach. New electric cars range in price from $25,000 to $180,000. Price increases at dealers due to car shortages and high demand also have inflated the cost of some electric cars over $10,000, sometimes up to $15,000.
Air Board officials predict that the cost of an electric car will equal the price of a gas-powered car as early as 2030, as supplies increase to meet the mandate.
Despite the higher initial costs, the Air Board’s analysis predicts that drivers will ultimately save much more on maintenance and operating costs. Charging at home costs about half as much as petrol for the same number of kilometers driven. California drivers are already paying some of the highest gas prices in the country.
During today’s hearing, air officials, environmental justice advocates and members of the public echoed: concerns they raised at a hearing in June on the proposal: challenges with high vehicle costs, lack of charging infrastructure and consumer reluctance.
The state’s subsidy programs designed to help low- and middle-income residents who buy electric cars have repeatedly suffered from inconsistent and inadequate funding. Meanwhile, auto groups said the industry is already dealing with global supply chain disruptions, battery shortages and other constraints.
Air board officer Anna Wong, who is part of the agency’s sustainable transportation and communities division, acknowledged that the plan has a “strict but achievable path”. Many of the changes they proposed in the revised policy include provisions to help manufacturers reduce costs for consumers, she said.
According to the mandate, electric cars must have a range of at least 150 miles on a single charge. Batteries should be more durable and have a manufacturer’s warranty. At least 80% of the original supply must be maintained over a 10-year period, starting in 2030, one year earlier than initially proposed.
To ease the pressure on automakers, staff has reduced the required range to 75% for the first eight years a new car is on the road, and extended it for a further three years.
Automakers are allowed to use a credit system that allows them to achieve a lower sales percentage if they offer cheaper cars at dealerships and participate in state subsidy programs.
To ensure enforcement, state officials could punish manufacturers that don’t meet their annual percentages with hefty fines of $20,000 for every car they don’t produce in a given year, according to air council staff. Automakers who fail to meet those requirements should receive credit from another manufacturer that has already met their targets. Air Board staff also assured the public that they could change the ordinance at any time to address lingering equality and compliance issues.
Can the electricity grid handle it?
Critics say the state needs more charging stations as electric car sales soar. California has about 80,000 stations in public places, which is short of the nearly 1.2 million public chargers needed by 2030 to meet the demand of the 7.5 million electric passenger cars expected to drive on California’s roads. .
Another question remains: will there be enough electricity? Experts say California needs a more reliable power grid, sourced from climate-friendly renewables such as solar and wind.
California’s electricity consumption is expected to increase by no less than 68% by 2045. But the electric grid — marred by outages and increasingly extreme weather — will require massive investment to achieve the clean energy future outlined in California’s five-year climate roadmap, a so-called scoping plan.
In recent months, Newsom has been pushing the idea of keeping the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open, introducing bills earlier this month, that would continue operations beyond its planned 2025 closing date. It’s part of a wider effort to maintain the reliability of the state’s increasingly strained electrical grid and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels as California makes progress on the transition to renewable energy sources.
But the controversial proposal, which would bring owner Pacific Gas & Electric $1.4 billion, has been met with much resistance. A new bill is being circulated within the legislature, proposing instead to use that money for renewable infrastructure.
California already has the largest zero-emission car market in the country, with more than 1.13 million plug-in vehicles registered about the state. Nationally there are about 2.64 million. That means California accounts for 43% of the country’s plug-in cars.
The board’s move today “is the most significant action it has taken in 30 years,” said board member Daniel Sperling, who is also director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.
California often enacts stricter climate change policies that the federal government then follows. There are also at least 16 states currently following the state’s strict automotive emissions standards that are expected to adopt these regulations. These states, along with California, account for about 40% of new car sales in the country, according to the board of directors.
Air Board employees expect the new rule to reduce passenger vehicle emissions by more than 50% by 2040. That results in 395 million fewer metric tons of greenhouse gases — the equivalent of the emissions from burning 915 million barrels of gasoline.
The rule is considered essential to reducing smog and soot pollution, which violates health standards in much of the state, and to achieving California’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.
The Air Board, which has been fighting severe air pollution in California for more than half a century, has long believed in the promise of a future for electric vehicles. zero-emissions, rising to 5% in 2001 and 2002. The council reversed its decision six years later after automakers expressed concerns that the technology and battery life were not advanced enough to comply.
“The mandate has led a very tormented life and it was basically weakened for almost 20 years and in 2012 we started strengthening it again,” said board member Sperling. “So this represents an embrace of the original vision. It’s important to California, it’s important to the US and it’s important to the world.”
State officials said Newsom’s $10 billion investment in vehicle incentives, charging infrastructure and audience outreach over the next six years will be a critical tool to boost sales and improve access and affordability.
The proposal comes just weeks after Congress passed a sweeping climate bill, putting billions into clean energy and renewable energy projects. The new law includes tax breaks for electric vehicles that provide up to $7,500 in rebates for Americans looking to buy a new zero-emission car or $4,000 for a used car. That rebate, in addition to the state’s multiple subsidy programs, is expected to help provide car buyers with some financial relief.