California Dreams of an EV-Only Future

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From the January 2021 issue of Cars and Drivers.
On September 23, in the wake of a devastating forest fire season, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an ordinance banning the sale of new combustion-powered passenger cars in the state until 2035. That means there are no new gas engines and no new diesel engines.
Newsom's mandate now goes to the powerful California Air Resources Board (CARB), which will hold hearings before the regulations are drafted. For those of us who have gasoline runs through our veins, the order might look like sugar poured into the engine's fuel tank. But that's not the finger that knocks over the first domino. It's a single domino in the middle of a chain that is already tipping over. Falling battery prices, growing concerns about the effects of climate change and increasing demand for electric vehicles in Europe and Asia are leading to a decline in the internal combustion engine.
The major players in the global auto industry are immediately recognizing that millions of vehicles will switch from internal combustion engines to battery power in the 2020s. This is the only viable and scalable way to reduce CO2 emissions from road vehicles. Before Newsom signed its contract, 16 of 26 major auto parts suppliers surveyed by the Ricardo engineering firm said that 100 percent emission-free vehicle mandates (ZEV) could be met by 2035 or 2040 with existing technology. And some want to get even bigger. Fourteen said they would support such a goal nationwide. In October, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and California Representative Mike Levin tabled a bill to do just that, although there is little chance of a vote anytime soon.
The auto industry almost agrees that the future is electric. The differences of opinion are mostly focused on timing: will people start rolling out ZEV en masse within a few years or not until 2040? California is confident that advances in technology, automaker investment, and consumer adoption will turn EVs to a tipping point sooner rather than later. The pool of potential EV buyers is expected to grow as new models arrive in the mid-size crossover and full-size pickup segments over the next three years. And with battery costs falling faster than anyone forecast in 2010, automakers are seeing a way to sell electric vehicles with a range of more than 200 miles that will make crucial money. The Volkswagen Group claims that the batteries in its newest electric vehicles cost less than $ 100 per kilowatt-hour of capacity, an often-cited goal for profitability. And GM President Mark Reuss says any model based on the company's new Ultium electric vehicle architecture will make money, starting with the GMC Hummer EV in late 2021. (Some analysts remain skeptical.)
Once the EV world becomes profitable for more than just Tesla (which currently relies on selling registration credits to other manufacturers to keep it in the black), automakers will begin to fully and competently market these vehicles - something they do have completely failed to date each other. That means announcing the inherent advantages of electric vehicles, including strong acceleration, smooth and quiet powertrains, and a "full tank" every morning. Ken Morris, GM's vice president of electrical and autonomous programs, said in November that the company sees a "tipping point" in the mid-2020s when "customer adoption will increase rapidly".
This goal of ending sales of new cars that emit greenhouse gases doesn't just apply to California. Norway was one of the first countries to have an official policy for 2025, and other countries have set their own border years between 2030 and 2050 [see "Refueling"]. The biggest dog in this battle is China, where people bought more plug-in vehicles in 2019 than the rest of the world combined. The Chinese government announced in 2017 that it plans to stop selling new internal combustion engine vehicles at a later date. The country intends to dominate global electric car production as it now dominates the solar cell and lithium-ion battery industries.
And within our borders, California is not alone in the fight for a cleaner atmosphere. Thirteen other states and Washington, D.C. are already following CARB's stricter vehicle emissions regulations, and some of them - New York, New Jersey, and Washington - are currently considering similar bans on internal combustion vehicles. These states form a powerful bloc to encourage industry to lower emissions. California accounts for around 11 percent of US new vehicle sales, and the entire CARB follow-up group accounts for around a third of the market.
However, there are reasons to believe that California will not achieve a total ban on new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035. For the vision to become a reality, Newsom's command must survive the inevitable lawsuits and possible interference from future presidential administrations. And even if the story is a guide, it doesn't mean consumers will buy it just because California says automakers have to sell ZEVs.
CARB wrote its first ZEV mandate in 1990 and required that 10 percent of new vehicles sold in California by model year 2003 should be powered by battery-electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell technology. But almost as long as CARB has been setting zealous goals, the state has had to adjust them to reflect reality. The rules have repeatedly been pushed back and watered down as lack of consumer demand and expensive, immature technology made it impossible to meet initial goals. In the first three quarters of the year, electric vehicles made up 6.1 percent of new vehicle sales in California.
While we don't know how CARB will implement the internal combustion engine ban for 2035, the logical way would be to expand the current mandate, which will plateau in 2025 when large manufacturers receive loans that represent ZEVs that account for between 4 and 29 percent of their annual sales . (This widespread use reflects that, according to today's rules, every electric vehicle sold can earn between 0.55 and four ZEV credits, depending on the range and charging capacity. Credits can also be bought and sold among car manufacturers.) But if the sales of electric vehicles are not increase Can the state alone really bring manufacturers and consumers up from 6 percent today to 100 percent in 15 years?
In response to the 2035 ban, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI), a lobbying group for automakers, noted: "Neither mandates nor bans create successful markets ... [and] much more needs to be done to increase consumer demand. " It called for more incentive programs and the expansion of the EV infrastructure. Under the presidency of Joe Biden, the AAI should fulfill these wishes. Biden has pledged to allocate $ 400 billion to clean energy projects, including creating 500,000 new charging points by 2030 and expanding federal tax credits on EV purchases.
Ultimately, it may not matter whether California achieves its ban on gasoline and diesel engines or just pushes ahead with the introduction of the ZEV. The implicit purpose of the directive is to shift the target post - to get automakers to offer more compelling electric vehicles with more variety sooner. It exists to speed up the inevitable transition to battery power, which is almost guaranteed.
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