California has taken steps to significantly change the state’s and possibly the nation’s automobile landscape. A policy that will ban sales of gasoline-powered vehicles in favor of electric or other net-zero emissions vehicles by 2035 was approved by the state’s Air Resources Board on Thursday.
The rule, which was first reported by The New York Times, provides intermediate goals on the path to a gas-free future: by 2026, 35 percent of new vehicle sales must be free of emissions from fossil fuels, and by 2030, the goal rises to 68 percent. More than a dozen states that generally adopt California’s vehicle regulations may soon do the same, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the US.
The country’s largest source of emissions that contribute to climate change continues to be the transportation industry, therefore mandating zero-emission vehicles would assist achieve the ambitious climate goals established by the Biden administration.
Benjamin Welle, director of integrated transport and innovation at the World Resources Institute, stated that “This is great news.” “California has been a leader in the clean car standards and I think this can give some serious momentum to phase out of [internal combustion engines].”
It won’t be simple though. Even in a state that has been at the forefront of the nation in terms of environmental regulations involving vehicles, a closer inspection of the vehicles Californians uses reveals the difficulty of such an ambitious transition.
According to a Grid (news publication media) study of data from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, there are more than 17 million registered vehicles in California with model years after 2010. According to their data, 82% of registered vehicles in California are powered only by gasoline. The remaining 18%, or 3.2 million vehicles, are made up of hybrid-gasoline and battery electric vehicles (EVs) like the Toyota Prius and Tesla’s electric vehicles (EVs). Vehicles using hydrogen fuel cells and plug-in hybrids are also included in this group.
According to Grid’s data, battery electric vehicles only make up 3.3% of all registered vehicles in California. Teslas make up almost two-thirds of those. The information was most recently updated in January 2021 and included vehicle brand, weight, and fuel type data by ZIP codes. This restricts research of more recent automobiles, but the data nonetheless provides the most thorough public record of the cars used on California’s roads.
“The transition to electric vehicles is already occurring, and this rule helps to speed up that transition,” said Kathy Harris, a clean vehicles and fuels advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Automakers have already announced $86 billion in investments to EVs as well as an increasing number of EV models — from sedans to SUVs to Trucks — with more announcements coming out every day.”
However, a closer examination of the data so far reveals that the majority of electric vehicles are found in wealthy areas of the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Orange counties. For instance, the Atherton area of the rich Bay Area neighborhood near Stanford University and not far from the corporate headquarters of Apple, Alphabet Inc.’s Google, and Meta (formerly Facebook) is home to the ZIP code with the largest number of Tesla.
There, the average household income is about $300,000, which is more than three times the average for a ZIP code in California.
“I’m not sure if it is a tipping point, but it is significant, since California is one of the largest automobile markets in the world,” said Bradley Lane, an associated professor at the University of Kansas’s urban planning program who focuses on EV adoption and policy. “Car makers aren’t going to make a different set of powertrains to sell in California (or any other state that has banned them by 2035, such as New York) versus the rest of the country or the world.”
According to the Energy Department, California, which has approximately 13% of the country’s population, had about 39% of its all-electric vehicles at the end of 2021. According to the report, Florida and Texas, two other populous states, also dominated the electric vehicle market.
According to Welle, there is a good chance that other states will follow California’s lead and adopt the same regulation; this has happened before with vehicle emissions standards. Meeting California’s targets are important if the Paris Agreement‘s climate goals are to be accomplished.
“The world will need to have a 100-percent phase out of [internal combustion engine] light-duty vehicle sales by 2035,” he told Grid. “So, this is where the world needs to be.” He agreed, though, that new vehicle sales requirements don’t necessarily take all those existing gas-powered vehicles off the road. “Getting it done is another question.”