California's Clean Cars Program: Driving Innovation at the LA Auto Show

With the LA Auto Show starting in three days, car afficianatos and Joe-public alike will have the opportunity to drool over the latest concept cars and next-generation crossovers (we used to call them station wagons, remember)? One of the biggest media highlights will be the array of cleaner and more efficient cars being shown, including the latest plug-in electric-drive vehicles. My colleagues, Roland Hwang and Max Baumhefner, will join me at the auto show to talk about the cleaner vehicles.

The cleaner cars that the auto industry said were impossible to make a decade ago, are now being commercialized and shown at the LA Auto show. So where is California heading in the next 15 years?

On December 7th, California will propose the next round of Clean Car standards . The standards will reduce dangerous air pollutants that harm public health, save families money at the gas pump, while stimulating California’s economy and creating jobs.

Specifically, several major proposals being considered by the Air Resources Board (ARB) as part of the Clean Cars Program are to:

  1. Ensure that Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV), such as plug-in electric vehicles, are brought to the state and widely commercialized. The Air Resources Board is proposing that 15% of new car and truck sales have some electric-drive capability by 2025. As discussed in a factsheet developed by NRDC-UCS, California can reach 18% or even higher given past rates of technology progress and forecasts for the market. Through a strong ZEV program, California will expand consumer choices to drive gasoline-free while also attracting more clean fuel and vehicle companies to locate and invest in the state.
  2. Reduce smog-forming pollution from new cars and trucks by 75% by 2025 while placing stringent controls on particle pollution.[1] The Clean Car standards, when fully implemented, will reduce annual health and societal damages by over $7 billion in California according to a study conducted by American Lung Association of California. Other states adopting California’s standards will also reap the benefits.  .
  3. Cut carbon pollution from new cars and trucks in half by 2025 versus today’s new vehicles, continuing progress on the Clean Cars Agreement between the Air Resources Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Transportation, and automakers. The standards will have the additional benefit of saving consumers over $3,000 over the life of their vehicles without sacrificing performance. A study conducted with the United Auto Workers, NRDC and Center for American Progress, found that over 150,000 direct jobs could be created in the auto industry alone across the nation. In a separate study conducted by CERES, California’s economy was found to gain 57,000 jobs due to these standards – the most of any state.  

A diverse group of voices have come together calling for the Air Resources Board to adopt the strongest possible Clean Cars Program. These include public health leaders, consumer groups, small businesses, clean technology firms, local governments, elected officials, organized labor, faith leaders, national security, and environmental groups as shown here ( NRDC will also be calling for the strongest possible standards as described below. 

A Strong California’s ZEV Program Can Deliver the Future of Electric Cars

At a time when the electric-drive industry is beginning to commercialize vehicles, California has a unique opportunity to spur sustained market growth by setting the next round of ZEV requirements.  The Air Resources Board can adopt even stronger standards that will result in 18% of vehicle sales in 2025 being electric-drive. This translates to 1.8 million vehicles sold in California alone over 2018-2025.

Nationally, together with other states that have adopted California’s program, the standards could ensure that five million vehicles are provided to consumers. Adopting the strongest ZEV program standards will provide the market certainty needed to ensure sustained and growing investments in the electric-drive indsustry. The ZEV program ensures California creates a consumer market for electric-drive vehicles and that  automakers – who have the technology know-how and marketing ability to make these vehicles available to all customers nationally – will deliver.

The Technologies of Today are Here Because of the ZEV Program

Over the past decade and a half, the ZEV program has led to sustained automaker investments in ultra-clean vehicles. The ZEV program has helped spur the commercialization of conventional hybrid technologies like the Toyota Prius in the U.S. as well as the widespread adoption of gasoline vehicles that emit extremely low levels of smog-forming pollutants.  Now, the ZEV program reaches a new milestone and is helping spur nearly all major automakers to launch plug-in electric vehicles for sale today,  such as the Nissan LEAF, GM Chevy Volt, the all-electric Ford Focus, and even a plug-in version of the Toyota Prius.  California’s standards have resulted in the technologies of today that are being shown at the LA auto show and offerred for sale to consumers. Going forward, a strong clean cars program will continue to deliver the goal of large-scale commercialization of zero-emitting vehicles and bring the next-generation of clean technologies to your garage.

Stay tuned as I blog more on electric vehicles and clean car standards from the LA auto show on November 17-19th.

[1] Compared to today’s new vehicle standards.