Last September, an executive order from California governor Gavin Newsom said that the state will plot a course to “end sales of internal combustion passenger vehicles by 2035.”
The Trump administration had already removed California’s emissions authority, been dismissive of electric vehicles, and replaced the existing emissions and fuel economy framework with a lax ruleset, and so the 2035 target sounded even to many in the electric vehicle sector like a thought-provoking soundbyte but a policy long shot.
Eight months later, the future looks very different. On Thursday California revealed the formative stages of its Advanced Clean Cars II program, and mapped out next-generation standards for the state—potentially also leading the direction for federal standards for a generation.
It’s important not just because it sets a template for potential federal regulation, but because with the restoration of California’s right to set its own emissions standards, it is likely to be the actual rule for the 12 states that have now adopted California ZEV policy.
Massive revamp for PHEVs
The proposal doesn’t quite retire the internal combustion engine by 2035, or end sales of vehicles you can fuel with gasoline; it leaves space for engines under the hood of 20% of new vehicles by then—albeit as part of more tightly defined plug-in hybrids.
PHEVs will need to go at least 50 all-electric miles and be “all-electric capable” throughout their charge-depleting mode for the US06 cycle, which includes several bursts of moderate acceleration and a momentary top speed of 80 mph.
2021 Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid charging
For those not familiar with the present state of plug-in hybrid technology, this is a big deal and a big step ahead, and will force automakers to redefine them to actually be relevant for U.S.-style commutes. Many current PHEVs revert to an engine-on mode under anything more than light acceleration; some won’t accommodate all-electric driving at U.S. highway speeds; and some will even refuse to be electric-only if you want to use the climate control.
Interpretation: Automakers are welcome to produce a plug-in hybrid with a 10-mile electric range, but for compliance purposes it will be just a hybrid.
Land Rover Discovery Sport plug-in hybrid
Furthermore, it’s suggesting new tailpipe emissions standards applying to plug-in hybrids, which can suddenly start their engine in what it terms a “high power start,” making many times the smog-forming emissions an engine otherwise produces.
California is also proposing that automakers can’t rely so much on plug-in hybrids in the interim years. They’ll only be able to use PHEVs to satisfy 20% of their ZEV obligation in any given year.
In other words, they’ll have to build a significant portion of their lineups as battery electric models—with some allowance for hydrogen fuel-cell tech. And to get there, CARB sees the average EV battery cost continuing to fall—to $100 on a pack level in 2026, $81 in 2030, and $63 in 2035.
CARB ACC II proposal: annual targets
Under CARB’s proposal, incremental targets aim for 26% battery electric and plug-in hybrid sales, combined, in 2026 and 76% in 2031. Plug-in hybrids are seen going from roughly 5% of the market in 2026 to 20% of the market in 2035.
Credits will remain “the currency of the regulation,” as a CARB presentation put it, with a five-year credit life under which they can be either saved to use in a later model year or sold to another automaker. Historical credits need to be used up by 2030 and can’t be used for more than 15% of ZEV or PHEV categories.
CARB ACC II: sales based on credits
Tighter emissions for gasoline-fueled vehicles
California also wants to avoid a scenario in which as ZEVs are introduced, the non-ZEV (internal combustion) models actually get dirtier—so to do that it plans to phase in a requirement for 0.030 grams per mile of smog-forming emissions by 2028.
It’s also making it tougher for internal-combustion models to achieve those desirable results—through a new proposed way of accounting for the US06 “Aggressive Driving” cycle that won’t give models a break in light of other test cycles that are within the limits.
Exhaust emissions from tailpipe [photo: Simone Ramella, 2005, used under Creative Commons 2.0]
There’s also a new way of accounting for “quick drive-away” after a cold start, where many vehicles produce far higher emissions. CARB shows, for instance, that the Mazda 3 produces roughly six times the smog-forming emissions if it’s driven after a 5-second idle than after a 20-second idle. Several common models, including the Toyota Camry, Jeep Wrangler, and Hyundai Elantra emit double the emissions or more after a short idle.
Based on the executive order, a full transition to zero-emissions short-haul trucks and off-road equipment is due by 2035, and a full transition to zero-emissions buses and long-haul trucks by 2045. The framework for those transitions hasn’t yet been discussed in as much depth.
Heavy-duty trucks contribute 7% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions and 26% of NOx emissions.
Leaving GHG leadership to the federal government?
Although the targets reflected a comprehensive approach toward reductions of smog-forming emissions, they lack any mention of a greenhouse gas target so far. Since 2002, California has set GHG standards, and with the expected reinstatement of that ability by the Biden administration it will have that chance to reinstate its existing one and set a new target.
"Californians will buy millions of gasoline cars over the next 10-15 years and they need the state to help spur the production of many more money-saving, low-carbon options regardless of action at the federal level,” said David Friedman, vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports. “We are hopeful that the next step will include a proposal for strong standards that cut new vehicle GHG emissions at least 60 percent by 2030.”
EVgo charging station overhead view
CARB did point to the federal government’s commitment to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 50% by 2030, the Biden administration’s proposal to spend $174 billion on EVs and charging infrastructure, and to the EPA’s direction to revisit greenhouse gas rules.
Newsom’s office stated in January that with the target, it would achieve at least a 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 80% reduction in oxides of nitrogen emissions statewide.
“These standards will save lives, reduce dangerous pollution, deliver jobs, and save Californians’ money,” said EDF senior attorney Alice Henderson. “We encourage CARB to swiftly adopt these standards, and we likewise urge the Biden administration to adopt a plan for the nation that matches the state’s protections.”
CARB is accepting written comments through June 11, 2021. After that comes a vote by the board on acceptance, with a detailed proposal expected later in the year.