Auto Industry Exceeding California's Zero Emission Vehicles Standard (by A LOT)

ZEV Compliance.jpg

California's Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program, which is resulting in 3.3. million electric cars on the road by 2025 in California and nine other "Clean Car" states that have adopted the program, is up for some regulatory updates today before the California Air Resources Board (ARB). Unfortunately, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) – an industry association – and several automakers are pushing ARB to start moving for the brakes in 2014. This comes just after the Board's unanimous, landmark vote last year to continue to grow and accelerate the clean, electric vehicle market.

The big irony is that the auto industry has not only succeeding in meeting the standards, but have vastly exceeded them. While industry analysts highlighted Tesla coming out on top in the ZEV program with last week's release of data by ARB, my broader analysis of the industry and market sales data shows the industry - as a whole - has sold enough plug-in electric vehicles to exceed requirements by more than two times over the 2009 to 2013 time period (see chart below). Sales of plug-in electric vehicles in California have more than quadrupled over the past two years, with over 50,000 vehicles now sold. 2013 will be a remarkable year as the auto industry is on track to exceed the annual requirements by nearly four times, based on published information from Polk, an industry forecasting service.

Estimated industry ZEV credit generation  over 2009 to 2013 versus estimated credit requirements.

In addition, the industry has an enormous safety net of banked credits which can be used for future years of compliance. Largely generated from earlier years of over-compliance and flexibilities granted, these banked credits could enable the industry to comply through 2017 if the industry chose to do so.  But expectations of the 2018 standards and beyond are driving many automakers to continue investing in ZEV technologies and to introduce new battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell electric models.

In contrast to some automakers, early market leaders like Nissan and Tesla have invested heavily and are supportive with maintaining the program, with Nissan commenting that it “remains a willing participant in the program and supports the process defined in the mid-term review” and the Tesla urging the Board to “reject requests by manufacturers for further concessions and to hold the line with respect to the current mandate.”

Those automakers investing in electric-drive got a further boost of support earlier today, with the announcement by the Governors of eight states, including California, to work together to accelerate the electric car market. As my colleague Luke Tonachel states, “Accelerating these key [state] markets can create a market tipping point for electrics, allowing them to rapidly spread beyond the borders of these eight states.”  

At today's CARB Board meeting, California will have a second great opportunity to demonstrate its continuing leadership to accelerate the ZEV market. Rather than hitting the brakes suddenly and unnecessarily, the evidence points to staying the course and continuing the great momentum and success.