California’s Opportunity to Show Leadership with Clean Cars

March 24, 2017 | 1:36 pm
David Reichmuth
Senior Engineer, Clean Transportation Program

Today the California Air Resources Board will evaluate a midterm review of its Advanced Clean Car Program (ACC) and decide how it will move forward with standards designed to reduce global warming pollution and air quality pollutants from new vehicles.

The clean-car standards, adopted in 2012, were developed to reduce smog-causing pollutants, particulate matter, and global warming emissions in passenger cars and other vehicles through 2025. One key part of the standards, the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) regulation, requires auto manufacturers to make an increasing number of plug-in hybrid, battery electric and fuel-cell electric vehicles available to car buyers.

California’s Advanced Clean Car (ACC) standards are working

These clean-car policies are the single biggest measure taken to reduce the state’s global warming emissions and petroleum consumption while meeting our climate goals. Among their achievements so far:

    • Since 2011, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates the standards have avoided an estimated 13 million metric tons of carbon emissions, 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline, and $4 billion in gasoline costs.
    • More than 260,000 electric vehicles have been sold in California since 2010 and the number of models available to consumers continues to grow.
    • Electric vehicles on California’s roads today are avoiding the burning of 82 million gallons of gasoline each year and have annual fuel savings of $111 million (at 2016 gasoline and electricity prices).
    • Electric vehicles are reducing the state’s global warming emissions by 660,000 metric tons a year. An EV charged on California’s increasingly clean electricity grid has global warming emissions equivalent to a gasoline vehicle with an 87-mile-per-gallon efficiency.

Cumulative ZEV sales in California now exceed a quarter million vehicles.

In-depth review shows vehicle standards are working

The Air Resources Board (ARB) has produced a comprehensive review of the ACC program and the findings are clear: The ACC standards are effective, science-based regulations that are producing economic and public health benefits for Californians. And with technology advancing faster than expected, the current standards can be achieved with even lower costs than anticipated.

Some automakers have argued that the ZEV standards should be weakened, both in California and the other nine states that have adopted California’s ZEV standard. However, the data in ARB’s Midterm Review report fails to support any need to weaken the standard.

  • Rapid progress on EVs over the past 7 years means that automakers can now meet the standards with fewer vehicles: 1.2 million electric vehicles and about 8% of new car sales by 2025, compared to original estimates for 1.5 million and 15% of new car sales.
  • Automakers that are leaders in ZEV technology are already well ahead of targets. For example, General Motors exceeded 5% plug-in vehicle sales in California in 2015.
  • The statewide average for EV sales last year rose to 3.5%, despite some automakers like Honda that were almost completely absent from the ZEV market.
  • ZEV sales in California accelerated in 2016, rising more than 18% compared to the previous year.

Automakers have also requested looser standards in the nine states that have adopted California’s ZEV rules (sometimes termed ‘section 177 states’ after the enabling section of the Clean Air Act). However, this request is not supported by the evidence.  Instead we find:

    • The rate of EV sales in these states is lower than California. However, the current rule allows manufacturers to satisfy their requirements with little to no EV sales in these other ZEV states.
    • Some automakers have responded by not offering cars in these states, especially on the East Coast. For example, the Fiat 500e EV is only offered in California and Oregon, despite annual sales of over 5,000 in California the last three years.
    • A comprehensive study of the plug-in EV market conducted by UCS shows stark differences in the availability of EVs between California and the other ZEV states. For example, between January and June of 2016, Boston had 90 percent fewer EV listings at car dealerships than Oakland, when adjusted for relative car ownership.
    • In order for EV sales to increase outside of California, ARB should allow the 2018-2025 ZEV standards to go into effect because those rules will require ZEV sales in the other nine states. Together with California, those states comprise more than a quarter of all car sales nationally.

Many more plug-in electric vehicles are listed for sale at dealers in California than other clean car states.

Technical experts say stronger standards should be developed for beyond 2025

 To meet California’s goals for air quality improvements and global warming emissions reductions, the state’s transportation systems will need to continue to become cleaner. ARB can help ensure we stay on track by beginning to develop ACC standards for after 2025. The ACC program has been successful in ensuring that the first generation of ZEVs were deployed, and harmful emissions reduced from the entire light-duty fleet. The ARB should continue these standards as recommended through 2025 and start the hard work needed to design a strong ACC program for the post-2025 period.