California is to automobiles what Texas is to textbooks: the state is large enough that when it enacts regulations on cars sold within its borders, the rest of the country – at least in part –follows by default. It’s for this reason that the state’s new proposed regulations, which entered the consideration period today, are important: they may predict the future of American motoring.
It’s important to note that this isn’t the first time the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, has worked on this type of thing. The state’s aptly named Clean Cars Program actually launched in 2009, but the group is now considering an updated version of the program – the also-aptly-named Advanced Clean Cars Program.
Despite the mild name change, there are some significant revisions being proposed The state’s ultimate goal is to drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent in the state by 2050, but the way in which it’ll get there is different than before.
The road to greener cars hinges on two waves, in succession. The first is a wave of what California calls “advanced low-GHG conventional vehicles,” which use advanced technologies to augment their conventional gas engines. Think things like stop-start technology; combining direct injection, continuously variable valve timing, and turbocharging; advanced transmissions with multiple clutches, infinitely variable ratios, or a high number of cruising gears. California would also lump conventional hybrids (think the non-plug-in Toyota Prius) in here. All in all, the state would like its new car fleet to, on average, reach the Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, or SULEV standards by 2025.
Second, the state wants to move to what it calls Zero-Emissions Vehicles, or ZEVs. This would include a number of different types of cars, including Plug-In Hybrids and Battery Electric Vehicles, as well as Extended-Range Electric Vehicles. The state wants to considerably up the number of cars like the Prius Plug-In, Nissan Leaf, and Chevrolet Volts within its borders, with ZEVs reaching a combined 15.4 percent of sales in 2025.
But CARB wants to go a step further: the proposals would begin to lay a groundwork for a dramatically increased number of fueling stations in the state that would serve alternative fuels like liquid hydrogen. Hydrogen fuel-cell cars would be lumped in with plug-in hybrids and classified as ZEVs, and the state is looking to amend regulations to compel gas stations to provide the fuel necessary to keep these going. This portion of the ACCP isn’t likely to happen quickly: California hopes to have five percent of stations offering clean alternative fuels by 2016.
No mention in the presentation: diesel. Diesel-powered cars have had a tenuous relationship with the state of California, thanks to the subject of greenhouse gases. While diesel-powered cars have lower fuel consumption numbers, most engines make too much nitrous oxide to win affection from CARB. Notable exceptions are diesels produced by Volkswagen (and Audi) and Mercedes-Benz, which use urea-injected exhaust systems to clean the air exiting the tailpipe.
One point of contention: CARB’s quotas for selling zero-emissions vehicles between 2018 and 2021 can be offset somewhat by overcomplying with already existing greenhouse gas regulations. An automaker can offset half of its obligation to sell ZEVs in 2018 and 2019, for instance, by overperforming in fleet average greenhouse gas emissions during the previous model year. The offset amount then trails down to zero over the next three model years. While the provision garnered praise from many of the original equipment manufacturers present at CARB’s Tuesday hearing, it drew predictable criticism from the state’s fiercest proponents of clean cars, one of whom called it a “sweetheart deal” for automakers.
What does this all mean for us? As California continues to work with the EPA to enact future vehicular emissions and fuel economy standards, there’s a good chance some of these ideas may scrub off on future policies, and perhaps future vehicle designs.