How Electric Vehicle Laws Could Get Tougher in California

Tesla Model 3
New legislation would make California’s electric vehicle laws tougher for automakers | Source: Tesla

What is taking place in California is more than the usual battle between industry powerhouses and environmental groups. As electric vehicle sales get a boost from mainstream contenders in the coming years, CARB has the opportunity to establish the strongest fuel economy standards in history and influence the national response to climate change.

With the state’s climate efforts stalled in Sacramento, one Los Angeles lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would exclude plug-in hybrids from the equation and force automakers to either produce long-range EVs, pay fines to the state, or buy credits from other automakers, the Associated Press reports. Autumn Burke, the L.A. Assemblywoman behind the legislation, said stricter EV guidelines would force competition on the market and bring down prices for consumers.

Environmental groups were joined by Governor Jerry Brown in supporting Burke’s legislation on the grounds it would get more zero-emissions vehicles to market faster and thus impact air quality in the state, according to the AP. On the other side, lobbyists for automakers are arguing the legislation would be little more than a boon for Tesla, which produces nothing but long-range electric cars and SUVs.

Other groups endorse more consumer incentives to bring prices down and spur consumer demand, which has lagged for years due to the cost of electric cars when compared to equivalent gasoline models. Not surprisingly, government agencies want automakers to improve fuel economy as the industry continues its record run; meanwhile, car companies are pushing for more incentives that would be funded by taxpayers. The answer will likely fall somewhere in the middle.

Elon Musk at the Tesla Model X premier
Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks at the Model X launch event in Fremont, California on September 29, 2015 | Susana Bates/AFP/Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk called out CARB at his company’s August earnings call, saying the agency needed to increase standards that were at the moment “pathetically low.” The public attack coincided with a steep drop in Tesla’s sales of zero-emissions vehicle credits. Assemblywoman Burke’s law would put companies with higher sales of electric cars back in a moneymaking position while forcing automakers’ hands on the development of economical vehicles.

Automaker groups have been pushing for lower corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards ahead of the midterm review of the program set for 2017. Representatives for the EPA believe the federal standards in place are working quite well and project automakers should be able to hit the miles-per-gallon marks by the goal of 2025. For CARB, there is a 15.4% mandate for the amount of cars that must be EVs, plug-in hybrids, or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2025.

Backlash from automakers and dealerships complaining about how it would impact their business reveals where their motivations are. There is no hope for reducing the amount of emissions from transportation if CARB and the EPA crumble from pressure by the industry. In fact, electric vehicle laws probably need to be stronger in order to avoid the worst of climate change. California’s Assembly will offer a preview of this crucial battle in the coming months.

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