SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California plans to require all new cars, trucks and SUVs to run on electricity or hydrogen by 2035 under a policy approved Thursday by regulators that aims to drastically cut carbon emissions and achieve a eventually end to gasoline-powered vehicles.
The California Air Resources Board’s decision came two years after Governor Gavin Newsom first instructed regulators to consider such a policy. If the target is met, California would halve car emissions by 2040.
The move gives the most populous US state the world’s strictest rules for the transition to electric vehicles. It is expected to prompt other states to follow California’s lead and accelerate the production of zero-emission vehicles by automakers.
The policy still needs federal approval, but is considered highly likely under the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden.
“This is a historic moment for California, for our partner states and for the world as we chart this path to a zero-emission future,” Air Council president Liane Randolph said at a public hearing before the vote.
The policy allows Californians to continue driving gasoline-powered vehicles and purchase used vehicles after 2035, but no new models would be sold in the state.
One-fifth of automakers’ sales after 2035 could be plug-in hybrids, running on batteries and gas, but the rest should be powered solely by electricity or hydrogen.
The European Parliament backed a plan in June to effectively ban the sale of gas and diesel cars in the 27 countries of the European Union by 2035, and Canada made the sale of zero-emission cars mandatory for the same year.
California climate officials say the state’s new policy is the world’s most ambitious as it sets benchmarks for ramping up electric vehicle sales over the next 13 years.
The first mandatory threshold will come in 2026, when a third of all vehicles sold in the state must be zero-emissions. Automakers can be fined $20,000 per vehicle sold for that purpose.
About 16% of the cars sold in California in the first three months of this year were electric.
The state of Washington and Massachusetts have already said they will follow California’s lead and many more are likely to — New York and Pennsylvania are among the 17 states that have passed some or all of California’s exhaust emission standards that are stricter than federal rules.
Laurie Holmes of Kia Corp. said the company plans to spend $25 billion on electric vehicles by 2025 and hopes to offer seven models by 2027.
But she and several other car company representatives expressed concern 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 achieving this goal, given elements beyond the industry’s control,” 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 oil industry. California remains the seventh largest oil-producing state in the US, although production is declining as it continues to meet climate targets.
California shouldn’t revolve its entire transportation strategy around a vehicle market powered by electricity, said Tanya DeRivi, vice president for climate policy at the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group.
“Californians should be able to choose a vehicle technology, including electric vehicles, that best suits their needs based on availability, affordability and personal need,” she said.
California is the most populous state in the country, with about 39 million people. They account for 10%. of the U.S. auto market, but have 43% of the country’s 2.6 million registered plug-in vehicles, according to the Air Board.
Reaching the 100% target by 2035 means overcoming very practical hurdles, in particular sufficiently reliable power and charging stations.
California now has about 80,000 stations in public places, far fewer than the 250,000 it wants by 2025. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents many major automakers, warned of the lack of infrastructure, access to materials needed to make batteries. and chain issues as one of the challenges to meet the state timeline.
The new commitment came as California works to maintain reliable electricity while moving away from gas-fired power plants in favor of solar, wind and other cleaner energy sources. Earlier this year, California’s top energy officials warned that 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, a Democrat, is pushing to keep the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant open beyond its scheduled closure in 2025, and the state may turn to diesel generators or natural gas plants as a backup when the power grid is under strain.
By adding more car chargers, more is demanded from 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 every 50 miles (80 kilometers) along highways.
Newsom, meanwhile, has pledged to spend billions to boost sales of zero-emission vehicles, including adding chargers in low-income neighborhoods. The new rules approved by the Air Council say the vehicles must be able to travel 150 miles (241 kilometers) on a single charge.
Driving an electric vehicle long distances, even in California, requires careful planning about where to stop and recharge, said Mary Nichols, former chair of the California Air Resources Board. The money from the state and federal government will go a long way toward boosting that infrastructure and making electric cars an easier option, she said.
“This is going to be a transformative process and the vehicle sales mandate is just one part of that,” she said.
Although hydrogen is a fuel option under the new regulations, fuel cell-powered cars have accounted for less than 1% of car sales in recent years.
Both the state and federal governments have rebates of thousands of dollars to offset the cost of buying electric cars, and the rules include incentives for automakers to make used electric vehicles available to low- and middle-income people.
In 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.