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California Proposal Could Ban Gas-Powered Car Sales After 2035

The California Air Resources Board held the first of two hearings to consider a new requirement to transition the state to 100 percent electric vehicle sales by 2035. The board is expected to finalize the rule this year.

Rows of new cars parked in a distribution center.
Shutterstock/Eugene Photo
California is moving forward with developing a sweeping plan to require that electric vehicles make up 100 percent of new car sales by 2035.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) held the first of two hearings June 9 to review and receive public comment on the proposed Advanced Clean Cars II regulation. The board is expected to finalize the rule by the end of the year.

“The regulation is designed to ensure consumers can successfully replace their traditional combustion vehicles with new or used ZEVs and plain hybrids that both meet their transportation needs and protect the emission benefits of the program,” said CARB Chair Liane M. Randolph in comments at the start of the meeting.

The move by California is seen as a monumental step, in part, because of the size of the state’s auto market, and a commitment by about a dozen other states to follow in the Golden State’s footsteps. And unlike a recent executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom to also aim for 100 percent new EV sales by 2035, the CARB action is binding and carries the regulatory legal weight needed to make the change.

In his comments to the board, Steve Douglas, vice president for energy and environment with the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, called the proposed regulation “the most sweeping, transformative regulations in the history of our industry. There’s no question about it. They will have a vast effect on the U.S. economy.”

The proposed regulation follows an earlier zero-emissions vehicle standard adopted by CARB in 2012, and a similar regulation adopted two years ago to require that heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and buses transition to electric by 2045.

The requirement for light-duty new car and truck sales to be 100 percent zero emission by 2035 is proposed as a phased plan, so that by 2026, new EV sales should make up 35 percent of the state’s car market, roughly double today’s 16 percent.

The proposed rule includes a number of requirements related to incentives and car details around battery range and even charging capabilities.

“These percentages keep automakers on a stringent, but achievable, path to 100 percent requirement not only in California, but in the states that choose to follow California’s regulation,” said Anna Wong, a member of the CARB team developing the new regulation.

“California would be the first and largest vehicle market to require 100 percent electric vehicle sales anywhere in the world,” she added.

In hours of virtual and in-person testimony at CARB headquarters in Sacramento, supporters of the requirement touched on the improvements to air quality that such a transition would lead to and the major step this would take toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A transition to electric cars is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 50 percent by 2040, according to CARB officials. Transportation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in California.

Kim Floyd, 79, a resident in Palm Desert in Coachella Valley, remarked on the “smog alert” the region was currently under.

“This smog alert is a large part of the result of heavy traffic on our roads locally, and emissions blowing in from the Los Angeles Basin,” said Floyd. “Climate change is making our air quality worse by the day and we need to strengthen, not weaken, zero-emission vehicle sales requirements.”

Large car-makers like General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen have already outlined plans to phase out gas-burning cars, and have announced big investments in research, development, battery production and retooling assembly plants to manufacture EVs. Smaller car companies, however, say the new rule could make it difficult to do business in California.

The new regulation would be “incredibly challenging” for a small company like Mazda, said Kevin Curley, manager of vehicle emissions, certification and compliance for Mazda’s North American operations.

And it would send ripple effects across the entire auto ecosystem, said Douglas from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

“The success of these regulations, as you’ve heard, depends on a lot more than these regulations,” Douglas told CARB.

“It depends on more than the vehicles produced from them. The success will require addressing charging and fueling infrastructure, vehicle and fuel costs, critical minerals and supply chain labor, and customer education,” he added, describing California’s transition to an all-electric future as “incredibly aggressive.”

“Just to be clear though, from the industry’s perspective, electrification is our focus,” said Douglas. “We will work to meet whatever you adopt, but again, they are extremely challenging, even in California, and in some states they may not be possible.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.