SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s expected 2035 requirement that all new cars, trucks and SUVs be electric- or hydrogen-powered will set a minimum standard for how far the vehicles can travel and incentivize automakers to give discounts to make purchases more affordable.
California Air Resources Board staff detailed the proposal Thursday ahead of an expected board vote on the groundbreaking policy. Approval was expected and will trigger a ripple effect throughout the auto industry and across the country.
Though California’s plan sets the most aggressive roadmap in the nation for transiting to electric cars, it does not eliminate passenger vehicles that run on fossil fuels. People can continue driving gas-fueled vehicles and purchasing used ones after 2035. The plan also allows for one-fifth of sales after 2035 to be plug-in hybrids that run on batteries and gas.
But it sets a course for ultimately ending the era of filling up at the local gas station. Washington and Massachusetts already have said they will follow California’s lead and many more are likely to — New York and Pennsylvania are among 17 states that have some or all of California’s tailpipe emission standards that are stricter than federal rules.
“This is a historic moment for California, for our partner states, and for the world as we set forth this path toward a zero emission future,” said Liane Randolph, chair of the air board.
Kia Corp.’s Laurie Holmes said the company plans to spend $25 billion by 2025 on electric vehicles and hopes to offer seven models by 2027. But she and several other representatives for auto companies said they’re concerned about the state’s timeline given factors such as supply chain challenges and the high cost of materials to build electric cars.
“Automakers could have significant difficulties meeting this target given elements outside of the control of the industry,” she said.
The switch from gas to electric cars will drastically reduce emissions and air pollutants but the transition will be painful for the state’s oil industry. California remains the seventh-largest oil-producing state, though its output is falling as it pushes forward with climate goals.
California shouldn’t wrap its entire transportation strategy around a vehicle market powered by electricity, said Tanya DeRivi, vice president for climate policy with the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group.
“Californians should be able to choose a vehicle technology, including electric vehicles, that best fits their needs based on availability, affordability, and personal necessity,” she said.
California is the nation’s most populous state , with about about 39 million people. They account for 10%. of the U.S. car market but have 43% of the nation’s 2.6 million registered plug-in vehicles, according to the air board.
About 16% of cars sold in California in the first three months of this year were electric and by 2026 the state wants the number to reach one-third.
Reaching the 100% goal by 2035 will mean overcoming very practical hurdles, notably enough reliable power and charging stations. California now has about 80,000 stations in public places, far short of the 250,000 it wants by 2025. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents many major car makers, flagged the lack of infrastructure, access to materials needed to make batteries, and supply chain issues among the challenges to meeting the state’s timeline.
Indeed, the new commitment comes as California works to maintain reliable electricity while it moves away from gas-fired power plants in favor of solar, wind and other cleaner sources of energy. Earlier this year, top energy officials warned the state could run out of power during the hottest days of summer, which happened briefly in August 2020.
That hasn’t happened yet this year. But Newsom is pushing to keep open the state’s last-remaining nuclear plant beyond its planned closer in 2025, and the state may turn to diesel generators or natural gas plants as a backup when the grid is strained.
Adding more car chargers will put a higher demand on the energy grid.
Ensuring access to charging stations is also key to ramping up electric vehicle sales. The infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year provides $5 billion for states to build charges every 50 miles (80 kilometers) along interstate highways. Newsom, meanwhile, has pledged to spend billions to boost zero-emission vehicle sales, including by adding chargers in low-income neighborhoods. The rules say the vehicles need to be able to travel 150 miles on one charge.
Driving an electric vehicle long distances today, even in California, requires careful planning about where to stop and charge, said Mary Nichols, former chair of the California Air Resources Board. The money from the state and federal government will go along way to boosting that infrastructure and making electric cars a more convenient option, she said.
“This is going to be a transformative process and the mandate for vehicle sales is only one piece of it,” she said.
Though hydrogen is a fuel option under the new regulations, cars that run on fuel-cells have made up less than 1% of car sales in recent years.
Both the state and government have rebates for thousands of dollars to offset the cost of buying electric cars, and the rules have incentives for car makers to make used electric vehicles available to low- and middle-income people. Over the past 12 years, California has provided more than $1 billion in rebates for the sale of 478,000 electric, plug-in or hybrid vehicles, according to the air board.
California climate officials say the state’s new policy will be the world’s most ambitious because it sets clear benchmarks for ramping up electric vehicle sales over the next dozen years.
The European Parliament in June backed a plan to effectively prohibit the sale of gas and diesel cars in the 27-nation bloc by 2035, and Canada has mandated the sale of zero-emission cars by the same year.
The new electric vehicle rules will also require federal approval, which is considered likely with President Joe Biden in the White House. A future Republican president, though, could challenge California’s authority to set its own car standards, as the Trump administration did.