In a decision that is sure to cause ripples throughout the auto industry, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted on Friday to mandate that by 2025, at least 15.4 percent of new cars sold by any major automaker in California will have to be electric, plug-in hybrid or powered by hydrogen fuel cell.
While the decision will boost pure-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, California regulators said it also favors models like the Chevy Volt over traditional gasoline-electric hybrids. The Volt is considered a "transitional zero-emissions vehicle" because it runs primarily on electricity, and uses a gasoline-powered back-up to recharge its battery.
The major automakers, including GM, Ford, Chrysler, and Nissan, were supportive of the new standards in testimony submitted last week.
"Probably the most heartening aspect of this whole rulemaking was the level of cooperation that we received from the industry," said Mary Nichols, chair of CARB. "Overall, the degree of support for the package was just extraordinary."
Beginning in 2018, automakers responsible for 97 percent of new light vehicle sales in California will have to sell plug-in hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell cars in increasing numbers in order to reach the 15.4 percent goal by 2025. In addition to automakers like GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda, who are already producing such cars, BMW Daimler, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, and Volkswagen would be subject to the mandate beginning in 2018.
But while some automakers supported the measure, car dealers were less optimistic, voicing concern that the market has been slow to adopt zero-emissions vehicles.
"We think it's a disconnect with the marketplace," said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "Automakers have invested literally billions of dollars in these technologies, so we have a real stake in trying to sell as many as possible," she said. "But no one knows what that number is going to be. And it doesn't help anyone if those cars sit on lots unsold."
The California New Car Dealers Association estimated that the new plan would add around $3,200 to the average price tag of a new car or truck, thanks to the changes in the technology. CARB said that direct incentives to prospective buyers were under consideration.
While this decision - which would reduce smog-forming emissions by 75 percent by 25 and carbon dioxide emissions from passenger vehicles by 34 percent between 2015 and 2025 - affects California only, the mandate also aligns with President Obama's proposed federal emissions regulations.
The effect of the regulation may not only be limited to California. Ten other states have indicated plans to adopt California's requirements, including New York and New Jersey, according to Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. This would mean that at we'd see at least 3 million of these advanced vehicles around the country by 2025 (1.4 million of which would be in California).
As SmartPlanet has noted, there is still widespread market resistance to electric vehicles at the price and driving ranges currently available on the market. What remains to be seen is if this mandated push to increase the supply of such cars will be followed with a corresponding increase in consumer demand.