CA Air Board Head To Carmakers On ZEV Rules: Back Off, Boys

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Mary Nichols, chief, California Air Resources Board

Mary Nichols, chief, California Air Resources Board

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California is the largest single market for new vehicles in the United States: more than 1.5 million vehicles are sold each year.

So when state officials speak, the auto industry has to listen.

On Tuesday, Mary Nichols spoke. She heads the powerful California Air Resources Board, which has legal authority to set emissions regulations for vehicles sold in the state.

In a speech that opened the Society of Automotive Engineers' annual World Congress, Nichols minced no words.

She suggested that two automaker trade groups should rescind a petition they filed last month with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking it to reassess California's requirements for sales of zero-emission vehicles, for which rules were adopted last year.

Those goals were drafted several years ago, and the state will stick firmly to them--with more carmakers required to sell higher volumes starting in 2015--Nichols said in January.

A writeup in The Detroit News notes that on Tuesday, Nichols termed the lawsuits nothing less than "shooting yourselves in the foot, or maybe I could say, tripping over your own halo."

That's about as blunt as any appointed official is likely to get in criticizing large, powerful, global corporations and their lobbyists.

The two trade groups, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers, contend that developing infrastructure and market conditions for specific types of cars--in this case, plug-in electric vehicles--has historically been a Federal responsibility.

California's ability to set its own emissions regulations dates back to its first efforts in the 1960s to control very high levels of photochemical smog, in the Los Angeles Basin and other areas.

Motor vehicle emissions had been identified as the predominant source of smog two decades before, but California was first to regulate tailpipe emissions--well before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970 under President Richard Nixon.

Smog in New York City

Smog in New York City

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In the Detroit News piece, Annemarie Pender, communications director for the Association of Global Automakers, is careful to acknowledge the state's legal right to set its own standards for emissions.

It's largely due to CARB's influence that the U.S. now has more aggressive corporate average fuel economy standards from now through 2025.

California established emissions limits not only on so-called "criteria emissions" (carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and hydrocarbons) but also greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide.

Emissions limits go hand-in-hand with higher gas mileage, so while the rest of the world regulates tailpipe carbon emissions, the U.S. requires higher gas mileage. The effect is the same.

The much-publicized 54.5-mpg CAFE target for 2025 will actually translate to an average of about 42 mpg on new car window stickers.


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Comments (8)
  1. Be Strong CARB, the nation is counting on you.

  2. It is so refreshing to see a public servant who's not beholden to moneyed interests, and who actually demonstrates leadership in their job. My first thought was that she would be great as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, but on second thought, I think she's getting far more accomplished right where she is.

  3. It is good that CARB is leading the way. Else, we wouldn't have so many "compliance" cars to try out...

  4. Even though their manufacturers are not committed to making any sort of volume, the compliance cars are serving a larger purpose. By forcing so many different models into production, the industry is able to field-test a wide variety of features and styles. The best ideas will eventually be adopted by volume manufacturers and benefit the rest of us earlier than they would have otherwise.

  5. It is good. I am NOT against "compliance" cars that you can try out by buying.

    One of those will be a "hit" and then the automakers will figure out what consumers really want at what price level... Having more choices in the lower price range is the first step toward widespread EV adoption.

  6. I like the trade groups saying this should be a federal responsibility, Lol! If we left this up to the federal government nothing would ever happen. I don't live in California but I'm thankful CARB exists because they are making a positive impact for all of us.

  7. We love Mary Nichols!

  8. Untill the demand is made that no emitting cars and trucks are allowed in cities the toxification of the cities will persist.

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