California Agency Reduces Zero-Emission Vehicle Requirements

April 02, 2008

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) decided on March 27 to scale back its requirements for the sale of zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) throughout the state by allowing new credits for the sale of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicles with hydrogen-fueled engines. When originally instituted in 1990, CARB's ZEV program would have required ZEVs, such as battery-powered electric vehicles, to make up 10% of the new light-duty vehicles offered for sale in California for model year 2003. Over the intervening years, that approach was gradually modified, allowing automakers to earn credits for producing ultra-clean conventional vehicles, ultra-clean hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and vehicles fueled with natural gas or hydrogen. The most recent version—approved in 2003 and adopted in 2004—required battery-powered ZEVs to comprise 2% of the cars and light trucks offered for sale in the state for model years 2005 through 2008, but also allowed automakers to avoid that requirement by producing a quota of fuel-cell vehicles. See the article from the April 20, 2003, edition of this newsletter.

A credit system in the 2003 regulations effectively reduced the percentage of required ZEVs to less than 1% of sales in 2005, but that would have ramped up quickly starting in 2009. The regulations were meant to result in 2,500 total ZEVs for the model years from 2009 to 2011 (about 833 ZEVs each year), 25,000 ZEVs for model years 2012 to 2014, and 50,000 ZEVs for model years 2015 to 2017. The approach approved on March 27 added a new option for plug-in hybrids or internal combustion hydrogen vehicles, which CARB is calling Enhanced, Advanced-Technology, Partial ZEVs, or "Enhanced AT PZEVs" for short. The new regulations would result in 58,500 Enhanced AT PZEVs for 2012-2014, and if automakers follow that path, only 7,500 ZEVs would be required. A similar option for model years 2015 to 2017 would cut the number of ZEVs to 25,000. Different automakers may choose different paths, so the ultimate result may fall between the two approaches. The board also called for a revision of the regulations for model years 2015 and later to greatly strengthen the requirements for vehicles that emit low amounts of greenhouses gases, in line with the state's other greenhouse gas regulations. See page 4 of the 2003 regulations (PDF 89 KB), CARB's summary of the changes (PDF 13 KB), and a ZEV fact sheet with more details about the changes (PDF 97 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

While CARB has faced criticism at times for backing off on its requirements for battery-powered electric vehicles, the ZEV program has met the state's goal of encouraging cleaner cars to be sold in California. The ZEV fact sheet referenced above notes that as of 2006, the ZEV requirements had resulted in 4,400 battery electric vehicles; 26,000 neighborhood electric vehicles (small, low-speed vehicles); 160 fuel cell vehicles; 109,000 ultra-clean hybrids and compressed natural gas vehicles; and 672,000 ultra-clean conventional vehicles (designated as "Partial ZEVs" or PZEVs) throughout the state.