California Mandates Electric Cars

By Cat Lazaroff

SACRAMENTO, California, January 30, 2001 (ENS) - Despite pressure from the auto industry, California air quality officials voted last week to require automakers to sell electric cars and other zero emissions vehicles in the state by 2003. The decision triggers similar legislation in Massachusetts, New York and Vermont, all of which have adopted California's clean air laws.


General Motor's EV1 electric car, one of the only zero emissions vehicles now available, has not sold well in California (Photo courtesy General Motors)
California held firm to its zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, directing automakers to produce between 4,450 and 15,450 electric cars starting in 2003.

The California Environmental Protection Agency's Air Resources Board (ARB) voted unanimously to keep the 10 year old ZEV mandate in place, while making modifications giving automakers additional options in meeting their ZEV requirements.

"This action keeps us steadily moving along the road to an ever increasing number of zero emission vehicles," said ARB chair Dr. Alan Lloyd. "We envision a future where consumers have an expanded range of clean car choices when they shop for an automobile."

The modifications enacted last week require automakers to begin putting new ZEVs on California roads by 2003. The number of ZEVs in 2003 can vary from 4,450 to 15,450, depending on the type of ZEVs the individual automakers chose to bring to market.

California kept the ZEV mandate requirement that at least 10 percent of cars produced for California markets be low emission vehicles. But instead of requiring that all 10 percent be zero emissions - essentially, electric cars - the new mandate requires just two percent to be ZEVs.

Honda Insight

The Honda Insight, available at your dealer today, gets up to 70 miles per gallon of gasoline (Photo courtesy Honda Motor Company)
Another two percent must be hybrid gasoline-electric or diesel-electric vehicles, and the remaining six percent must be certified Very Low Emission vehicles - a definition now met by just one car, the Nissan Sentra CA, sold only in California.

The modified rules cut the total required sales of ZEVs to about 14,000, fewer than the estimated 22,000 ZEVs required by the original form of the mandate. The final number of ZEVs sold will depend on the total number of vehicles sold in the state.

About 100,000 very clean vehicles, such as hybrid cars, must be produced in 2003, with this number increasing to more than 400,000 by 2006.

The Board also decided to begin in 2007 including heavier sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and vans in the sales figures used to calculate the number of ZEVs each automaker is required to sell in California. This will increase the number of vehicles used to calculate ZEV requirements from just under one million to more than 1.5 million.

"More SUV sales will mean more ZEV sales," Dr. Lloyd explained.

Ford Prodigy

The Ford Prodigy, a concept hybrid diesel-electric vehicle, is designed to travel 660 miles on a tank of diesel fuel (Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company)
Dr. Lloyd pointed out that automakers get incentives for introducing ZEVs prior to 2003. "We could start seeing new electric vehicles on California's roads as soon as next year," the ARB chair predicted.

The ARB's meeting last Thursday night saw a major automaker for the first time voice acceptance of the ZEV mandate. A spokesperson for Ford addressed the Board, saying the automaker is prepared to fulfill its share of the ZEV requirement in 2003.

But most automakers criticized the board's decision, saying that requirements for "unmarketable" electric cars will lead to higher automobile prices.

"Our companies have explored the path of battery electric vehicles,"said Josephine Cooper, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "However, electric cars with broad consumer appeal are an idea whose time has come and gone, much like eight track tapes, Betamax and New Coke."

The Alliance represents the world's 13 largest auto makers. The new rule affects the six automakers who sell the majority of California's cars, including DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

Supporters argued that the ZEV mandate will prompt the development of a range of clean car technologies, which, used in combination, will lead to cleaner air in California and across the nation.

p2000 lsr

Hybrid electric vehicles like Ford's P2000 LSR can offset emissions from conventional cars (Photo courtesy Ford Motor Co.)
"The ZEV program is the linchpin to cleaning up all our cars and most of our trucks," Ellen Garvey, the executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, told the board. "It's not only a program for drivers, it's a program for breathers."

The board's vote opens the door for Massachusetts, New York and Vermont to adopt similar rules. Under the federal Clean Air Act, states that adopt California's strict emissions standards - which surpass federal standards - cannot set requirements for zero emissions vehicles unless California does so first.

The 11 member Air Resources Board is a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency, charged with overseeing all air pollution control efforts to create and maintain health based air quality standards across the state.